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Letter Warns Captors Not to Kill U.S. Hostage

June 18, 2004|From Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A letter from a man identifying himself as a Saudi friend of U.S. hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr. urged the abductors to spare Johnson's life and said killing him would violate Islamic law.

The letter, signed by Saad Mumen -- a pseudonym meaning "Saad the Believer" -- said the writer had bestowed his protection as a Muslim on Johnson and warned "I will curse you in all my prayers" if he is harmed.

The letter was posted late Wednesday on websites where Al Qaeda supporters and other militants leave messages, and it was read on Arab satellite TV channel Al Arabiya.

Johnson's captors said Tuesday in a videotape and a written statement on a website that they would kill him unless Saudi authorities released Al Qaeda prisoners within 72 hours. They did not specify when the countdown began but said it would end today.

Saudi newspapers quoted unidentified government officials as saying they would not give in to terrorists' demands.

A U.S. Embassy official in Riyadh said Thursday that contacts with Saudi authorities were continuing.

Johnson, 49, has worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade and was kidnapped Saturday by a group calling itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Johnson's home state, New Jersey, Paul Johnson III pleaded Thursday for his father's safe return.

Some messages on the sites where the letter was posted ridiculed it and called for Johnson's death.

The letter said that Johnson was interested in reading translations of the Koran and that he was critical of U.S. politics.

If Johnson is harmed, it read, "I will never forgive you. I will curse you in all my prayers." It pointed to a saying by the prophet Muhammad: "If they were granted [Muslim] protection, then killing or taking their money or harming them is forbidden."

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