The Web      Powered by


Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Hostage Beheaded in Saudi Arabia

Aired June 18, 2004 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: They promised to kill Paul Johnson if indeed the Saudis did not turn over al Qaeda extremists that were jailed in that area in exchange for the life of Paul Johnson.
Someone who has gotten to know a lot about Paul Johnson and the family of Paul Johnson -- our Deborah Feyerick had exclusive access just within the couple of days.

Deb, I know you're getting word now. We've shown the live pictures that the family, indeed, has found out many of the details surrounding the death of their father, of their loved one, of their grandfather.

Tell us what you know and if, indeed, you've made contact with them yet.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you that moments after the pictures of Paul Johnson appeared on the Web site along with that statement that you just read, that the U.S. State Department did call the family.

The family right now, all together: Johnson's sister, Johnson's mother, his son, his grandson -- they are all within a home in a private area, a secluded area. The media keeping a respectful distance away.

We do know that as soon as the news came out, though, many people began going to the home to offer their condolences, to offer their support. There has been a groundswell of support in this area, Eagleswood, News Jersey, Paul Johnson's hometown.

The family right now is deciding whether, indeed, they want to make some sort of a statement. They had told that they were going to wait between five to six hours before they say anything, possibly. Or actually, they want that kind of confirmation that, in fact, the man in the video and those still photographs is, in fact, Paul Johnson.

They did issue an emotional plea on CNN. I sat down, they talked to them. They really just were so optimistic. Through this whole ordeal, they really had a lot of in the Saudi government. The Saudi government mounting an extensive effort to try to find Paul Johnson; CNN learned there were some 15,00 security forces and police officers fanning out across the entire Saudi kingdom. Some of them were actually going door-to-door in hot beds of sort of Islamist religious areas and that they were trying to hopefully to come upon Paul Johnson. Clearly, they did not. The State Department just recently issued a statement that said that further attacks are likely. U.S. Citizens should leave the country. As a matter of fact, one sources telling CNN, "We want Americans to leave." Johnson lived away from expatriate compound, which does have much more security. In fact, he was living with his wife outside of the compound, and when he was abducted, he was alone in his car. His car was found in the parking lot of a university.

So he felt safe there, and that's what his sister told me. His sister said that he had never had any cause for concern while living there. And I had asked, were you ever looking over your shoulder -- was he ever looking over his shoulder? Had he started taking, you know, note of some of what was going on.

She said, He still did not feel afraid. He really loved living there. He had a great respect for Saudi Arabia and for the Muslim culture -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Deb, I'm getting word now -- this is according to the Associated Press -- Al-Arabiya says the body of slain American Paul Johnson Jr. Has been found. Once again, the Associated Press reporting that Al-Arabiya television is reporting that the body of Paul Johnson Jr. has been found.

Also another statement coming through. Deb, I'm going to have you also talk about this. Lockheed Martin, the company that Paul Johnson worked for there in Saudi Arabia -- they worked on Apache helicopters -- came forward. A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin saying, "We cannot yet confirm the news. All we can say is we're very distressed, very disheartened and are dealing with the family"

Once again, the AP reporting that the body has been found.

But Deb, you were saying Lockheed Martin has been providing counseling for the family there?

FEYERICK: They have.

Lockheed Martin has really given the family a lot of support. They had had counselors with the family the entire time. They had had representatives with the family to try to make this as easy as possible for them.

Initially, when we contacted Lockheed Martin earlier in the week, they had said that they had no plans or would not say whether they had any plans to pull out personnel from the area. We don't know whether, in fact, that has changed in light of this murder. But Lockheed Martin providing the family whatever support they possibly can. They were also providing support to Johnson's wife, who lives in Saudi Arabia with him, again, outside that expatriate compound. But Paul Johnson described as a 6'2" man, very gentle, very kind man, no known enemies. And so clearly, this has come to a shock not only to his family but his wife and to all those who ever knew him -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And of course, he had been working for Lockheed Martin for almost two decades, right, Deb? And had been in Saudi Arabia for a number of years, working for this company, showing a lot of interest toward Islam. Very sensitive to the culture, sensitive to the religion and never feared for his life?

FEYERICK: That's exactly right.

And, as a matter of fact, one thing that was so interesting, we have seen other American captives, other American hostages. This was the first time that there was actually a big move amongst some of the Saudis themselves to try to free an American captive. One of Johnson's workers, under a pseudonym, Saad the Believer, sent a letter to a number of Islamist militant Web sites pleading for Johnson, saying that he was a Muslim -- this friend -- that he was a Muslim and as a Muslim, he was offering Johnson his only personal protection. And the friend quotes the Koran and says, "killing him now would be a violation of Islamic law."

There was also big support from many Saudi clerics and religious leaders who also came out begging for the kidnappers not to kill this American. The letter that was posted on the Web site created a lot of discussion amongst many people who go to different Web sites, also one of the television Web sites there. Some people saying, Yes, let him go, let him go. Others pointing out that Johnson, although he was working for a company, Lockheed Martin -- Lockheed Martin is a defense contractor -- and their point was that he was working on Apache helicopters. He was making them better, and in the words of one of the writers, they said, you know, making them better so they could kill Muslims, and that's what the terrorists put on their Web site. So there's a big debate going on in that area as well -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Deb Feyerick there just outside of where the family lives in New Jersey, the southern part there. Had a chance to spend time exclusively with that family.

Deb, thanks for the insight on Paul Johnson and also his kids and grandchild -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A short time ago, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, came out, addressed reporters at the State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom. Let's listen.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we've heard these reports. I don't know yet if they have been confirmed by Saudi authorities, but we are in touch with Saudi authorities. And if these reports are true about Mr. Johnson, we, of course, totally condemn this action. It's an action of barbarism, an action shows once again what the world is dealing with, with these kinds of individuals who would behead somebody or murder somebody in cold blood, an innocent individual who is just trying to help people and trying to do his job. And, if anything, it will cause us -- I'm quite confident, it will cause or Saudi colleagues to redouble our efforts to go after terrorists, wherever they are, wherever they're trying to hide and to go after those who support this kind of terrorism.

And so, waiting to hear more from Saudi Arabia. Our thoughts are with Mr. Johnson's family. They had shown a great deal of courage during this trying time, this difficult time for them and my thoughts are with them, our thoughts are with them. And we're waiting to get the final confirmation.

Thank you.


O'BRIEN: Secretary of State Colin Powell a short time ago.

Joining us on the line, Mamoun Fandy joins us now. He is an Arab analyst from Georgetown University.

Mr. Fandy, can you hear me all right?


O'BRIEN: All right.

The secretary of state say was saying, We're waiting to hear more from the Saudis. A lot of talk today about what sort of cooperation level there will be between U.S. and Saudi investigators.

Why is there that concern in the first place?

FANDY: Well, I think -- I think there is a concern because countries are jealous over their sovereignty and in previous investigations, Saudis were very jealous about involving American investigators, especially FBI into their own cases. But I think this case, this second case of a beheading of an American in Saudi Arabia, which poses a very serious challenge to the Saudi government. Probably they would cooperate.

O'BRIEN: Give us a degree -- when you say "a serious challenge," -- put it into some kind of perspective, could you? Because certainly the Saudis have been contending with this faction of extremism for quite sometime.

FANDY: Well, you know, this time, I think, with the case of Paul Johnson -- I mean, since the beginning of his captive and the threat issued by al Qaeda members, Saudi society has changed. We've seen some sympathy and we've seen some Saudis trying to reach out to their own community and try to free him, and the statements came out from the Grand Mosque in Mecca asking the captors to set him free. But obviously, all efforts failed. So there is a tremendous degree of anger against what happened.

But, still, it's a big challenge, because the Saudi government, Saudi security failed to get him out or to even, in the previous events, they failed to capture al Qaeda members.

O'BRIEN: I heard just a little while ago Eric Haney, one of our analysts here who has some experience on the Saudi peninsula, actually protecting the royal family, suggesting that there is real turmoil ahead in the kingdom. If -- of course, you could say right now there is turmoil. But even perhaps more serious trouble ahead for the kingdom.

Would you go along with that?

FANDY: Well, the trend shows that for the last six weeks, there have been a series of events that are not known to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So, certainly, one would worry about the increase of the degree of violence in such a country that has one-third of the oil reserves over the world and it's the linchpin for the security of the Middle East, given the hot spots surrounding it.

So certainly , it raises a lot of concerns.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, it is strategic, that is a given. Certainly with its oil deposits that puts the U.S. in a real conundrum there.

And what would you suggest the U.S. to do? We just heard Kelli Arena talking just a few moments ago about a call by some within the U.S. for -- to encourage Americans to leave. Is that -- is that the right tact to take right now? The only prudent tact to take?

FANDY: I think -- I think Americans should not leave. I think just bowing to go the pressure of these thugs will only be counterproductive. I think the United States should encourage Saudis, especially the sentiment that emerged with the case of Paul Johnson, that rejected terrorism to push against this whole culture, that justifies vicious acts like this.

So it has to be -- really, we're looking for greater cooperation as the solution rather than cutting and running.

O'BRIEN: Mamoun Fandy, an analyst at Georgetown University, thank you very much for your time.

FANDY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Nic Robertson has been watching this from his home base in London.

Nic, I was just talking to Mr. Fandy about the complicated relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and what the appropriate response or -- what the appropriate response would be going forward from here. Mr. Fandy said having Americans turn tail and take leaves this summer would be precisely the wrong thing to do.

How does the Saudi kingdom feel about having the U.S. there? It's -- they need those people to get the oil out of the ground properly. And at the same token, it is stirring up a real hornet's nest.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to some people I was talking with, Miles, who came back from Saudi Arabia in the last week or so -- they said, look, People are very worried. They are very concerned, Saudis, Westerners.

But they say the Saudi population -- and this is something I discovered talking to Saudis as well recently -- seem almost resigned to the fact, almost accepting of the fact that most Westerners will eventually leave Saudi Arabia. There is an exception in Saudi Arabia that they need to employ more of the Saudi youth, that the jobs that many of the Westerners even the expert technocrats have at this time could be filled by Saudis.

There's an acceptance, if you will, in Saudi Arabia, that the Westerners are going to leave, that their own Saudis should step in and take the jobs. Many of them have been through universities, still can't find jobs within the kingdom.

There is also feeling, an analyst in the region, that even if all of the Westerners do leave -- perhaps if a couple of key figures stay, but if most of the Westerners left, it still wouldn't bring the Saudi oil industry to a grinding halt. It might slow some of the modernization that is planned for the Saudi oil industry, but it won't stop it.

So there is an acceptance in Saudi Arabia that this is going to happen, that westerners are going to leave; a reluctance maybe to see it happen, but an acceptance, Miles, that it probably will.

O'BRIEN: And what about the thoughts on where that leaves the Saudi royal family? Does that leave them stronger or perhaps weaker?

ROBERTSON: That's a question a lot of Saudis are thinking about right now. If the current target for these groups is the Westerners, what happens if all of the Westerners go? What is going to be targeted next?

The royal family -- removing the royal family has been on the agenda for these groups for sometime, so how will they -- how will they execute that? What will be the next targets? Very likely soft targets. What sort of instability would that bring to the communities?

I don't think people, at least that we've talked to so far -- Saudis that we've talked to -- are that desperately concerned that the situation is going to deteriorate very quickly. But they are beginning to wonder what the implication is, if all of the foreigners go, if all the international workers go, what's next? Who's going to be attacked next?

O'BRIEN: You mentioned concerned about, you know, rank-and-file Saudis on the street, if you will. We don't hear from them too much because of the nature and the secrecy of the kingdom.

Do you have a sense of what their thinking is right now, now that, really, the peninsula has become a real epicenter for terrorism that we've seen unfold here?

ROBERTSON: There has been a growing feeling that it's time for changes to be made, reforms to be made in Saudi Arabia: the way the country is run; the way education takes place, how it takes place; who gets to write the curriculum for the students; what they get taught in their schools -- that changes need to be made that will affect the next generation and will affect the situation now. Reforms that will allow women to drive. Reforms that will perhaps bring about a real democracy as we might see it in the West -- not to be ruled by the royal family, but to allow politicians, real opposition politicians to emerge. There is no real political opposition within Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the view of some people is that that would dissipate some of the resentment that's built in some areas of the community towards the royal family.


O'BRIEN: But that's a terribly risky move for the Saudi royal family to take, and they have really not demonstrated heretofore any desire to allow that to occur.

ROBERTSON: Well, I think one of the things we need to look at, Miles, is that the Saudi royal family is not one entire group, body of people, thinking along the same lines. They have different fiefdoms, if you will. There are some that are more -- more inclined towards reform. There are others that are not inclined towards reform. There are those that believe if they begin to reform, that this will just play into the hands of the terrorists and that everything will unravel from there. They've become hugely wealthy. It means divesting themselves of some of that wealth and power.

So there is a huge amount of lower-level, behind-the-scenes turmoil within the royal family about how to deal with it. Obviously, those in the royal family in power, in the positions of top power, are the ones that are going to have to say, OK, we need to reform. And that hasn't happened yet.

But we cannot think of the royal family there as just having one set view and being cohesive. There are behind-the-scenes discussions that go on all of the time. The attacks last November precipitated intense discussions within the royal family, I'm told. Again, but we didn't see any changes on that. Perhaps a few think tanks, perhaps a few discussions, polling set up to find out what Saudis thought about Osama bin Laden, about his words, about his actions. But nothing beyond that.

The real feeling is -- among the reform-minded Saudis that I talked to -- is that -- is that change is needed now, that the royal family can't wait. But these are the people who are not in the main positions of power, Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Nic Robertson, thank you very much. We'll check back in with you very shortly -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Miles, and Nic talking about Westerners leaving Saudi Arabia, the effects that that might have.

But Mike Brooks, I want to bring you in, former FBI counterterrorism, with your experience.

Let's talk about al Qaeda staying. When we think of Osama bin Laden living in Saudi Arabia. We think of the 9/11 hijackers being of Saudi descent. We see the activism going on in Saudi Arabia, yet a real to get aggressive to weed out these extremist groups.

What do you think? Is this just the beginning of it's going to get worse, or are things going to have to change?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we see kind of a up and down, if you will, of Saudi reaction.

We go back to 1995 -- as we spoke just a little wide ago -- we had the bombing at the Saudi Arabia National Guard facility in Riyadh. It killed five Americans who were there helping the Saudi Arabia National Guard. They gathered up some suspects and they beheaded them. They didn't have a chance to let U.S. investigators come over and interview them to see if they were involved in anything else or what they had in the future. They went ahead, they tried them and beheaded them before the investigators even had a chance.

Then we go, 1996, and we were talking about the Khobar Towers bombing earlier. I was one of the team leaders there on the evidentiary response team that was the first group on the ground. But then you also had an investigative group that teamed up with Saudi investigators. They were trying to interview people outside of the base because there were thousands of injuries outside of the base there in Dhahran. But we couldn't get a handle on how many injuries there were, what, if anyone, saw anything, driving by late at night, because they really didn't -- because there's, you know, secrecy of the kingdom -- they really didn't want people going out on their own during interviews.

So they would bring people in for the investigative teams to interview, but very rarely did they go out with the Americans in the community to try to do interviews.

PHILLIPS: So what's it going to take to integrate more. If everybody has to be there, whether it's Saudis, Americans -- and at what point does there need to be a more aggressive approach to weed out al Qaeda and these terrorist factions?

BROOKS: I think if this continues, what more -- what bigger signal can you have that you are going to have to weed out these factions?

You know, we -- the Saudis say there have been -- there has been a continuing relationship between the FBI, by the Saudis actually allowing the FBI to have an office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I think that was a huge step.

You know, they need to take it even a step further. They say the cooperation on this particular case, I'm hearing from my federal law enforcement sources, has been very good. And they, in fact, were trying to find Paul Johnson before this did happen.

PHILLIPS: But, Mike, is it the U.S.' responsibility to go after these extremist groups, like the FBI that you say is based in Riyadh? Or is it the Saudi royal family that needs to get more aggressive about who is living in this country? BROOKS: Well, by law, if something happens to an American -- if something happened to you and me anywhere in the world, the FBI -- terrorism-wise, the FBI has jurisdiction to go over there to investigate that. How much cooperation they get from the government -- that local government remains to be seen.

But yes, I think there is -- it's incumbent upon the Saudis because of the relationship -- you know, a lot people say, Oh, the bottom line here is the bottom line, it's all about oil. That's the only thing it's all about. But then you look at groups like al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups, and they go back to the U.S. relationship with Israel and looking at U.S. as infidels.

We go back to the gulf war in 1991, '92. Back then, when they were using Saudi Arabia as a base of launching operations, you know, they said the U.S. are infidels. You have two of the three holiest places in Islam there on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.

You know, what kind of cooperation we'll get in the future remains to be seen. But I think this has got to be a wake-up call to both the U.S. and the Saudi government, saying we have to work together.

PHILLIPS: Well, the argument you bring up about it's all about oil, that comes up a lot.

BROOKS: All the time.

PHILLIPS: And now you're seeing these attacks, whether it's in Saudi or in Iraq, on the chief of oil and the pipelines. Oil is definitely going to become an issue here.

BROOKS: It already has been. It has been, I think, for years and decades. It always has been an issue, and that's what -- and that's what people here with -- you know, when the political season, they start talking about oil, we see the price of gas going up. And then that's all that the people focus on,; they focus on oil in the Middle East. You know, whether it be in Iraq or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, all of these different Saudi -- you know, Saudi Arabian Peninsula countries. I mean, that's what the bottom line is, and I think that's what people here in the United States -- you know, and foreign people they say, Well, it's all -- the bottom line is, it's all about oil.

PHILLIPS: The Olympics. Could this affect the Olympics?

BROOKS: You know, I was -- we were discussing this a little while ago. I think it's going to make some athletes think now again, you know, Do I want to put myself in peril to go over there to the Olympics?

You know, there have been basketball players who play in the NBA who will be going over to represent the United States. Some of them have said that they were concerned about their safety. There have been other athletes who have said they're concerned about their safety. They have spent billions of dollars -- billions of dollars on security, the most of any Olympic Games. But people are concerned. You know, how much cooperation is the Greece -- Greek government, how much have they been cooperating with the U.S. on trying to make sure that the games are safe to the U.S. athletes?

Now, you worry, there is going to be athletes from hundreds of countries there. There is a big exercise next week that's going to be run by the Department of State. I think that will also -- maybe some things will come out of that. But they say they are ready.

They've also brought NATO into the picture, which makes a lot of security experts feel a lot better that NATO is going to be there, going to be helping the Greek government on the security of the Olympics. But still, there are a lot of athletes who are very hesitant about going there. And I think now, after this happening, they're also very hesitant about going there.

What role is the United States going to play? The FBI is going to have a team -- basically just a response team there to help the Greek government should something occur. They have offered their assistance, along with a consortium of other governments, and saying, Hey, we'll do what we can to help you. The Greeks have accepted to a certain point their help in the security planning. But still, they're going to have U.S.. assets staged different places all around Greece. Not in the country, not in Cyprus, but other countries should something happen.

Terrorism experts I speak to on a regular basis and also former colleagues from the FBI, they tell me they're expecting something to happen. They would be very surprised if something didn't happen. But to what magnitude, they really don't know.

PHILLIPS: Real quickly, we're going to move on with our coverage.

But we were talking about the security of Americans like Paul Johnson in these expatriate compounds security. Is that going to change? Is that going to be the place where Americans who want to stay will live? Is that all -- is there going to have to be a refocus on that?

BROOKS: I think we've seen, over the last number of months, over the last year, a number of bombings of some of these compounds, where they drive in with trucks, they stage a number of -- you know, one or two bombings in the compounds.

They have to go back and make sure that these are hardened targets. They look at these compounds -- and we saw with Paul Johnson being taken, they look at these compounds as a soft target. They have to go back and make sure that these are hard targets, or else we're going to see this happen again and again.

PHILLIPS: Mike Brooks, former agent with the FBI's agent counterterrorism, now with us at CNN. We're going ask you to stay us. As our coverage continues here in Atlanta, we're covering this story. If you're just tuning in, once again, a family's fears finally realized. And that is American hostage Paul Johnson has been killed by Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia. We are getting reports now that his body has been found in Riyadh. His captors posted three chilling photographs of his body on an Islamic Web site as proof. A videotape also exists according to Al-Arabiya television, the bureau chief there.

As you know, the group now claiming responsibility, the Fallujah Squadron, said they would kill Johnson if the Saudi government did not release al Qaeda prisoners. As you know, that did not happen and the life of Paul Johnson was not spared.

I'd like to bring Judy Woodruff, our colleague there in Washington, D.C. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

As we continue our coverage, Judy, you are covering the angles there from Washington. What are you hearing? What do you know? What's the response from there?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Kyra, thanks very much.

The first thing I want to tell our viewers is the Saudi Arabian embassy here in Washington has just, moments ago itself, confirmed reports that Paul Johnson is dead. We've had comments -- as you showed, just a moment ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell, government -- other government -- at that point, Colin Powell said it could not be confirmed. Now, of course, U.S. government sources are saying it has been confirmed and now we have the Saudi government, through its embassy here in Washington, confirming the death of Paul Johnson.

I want to tell you, Kyra, that just a few moments ago, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, John Kerry, who is here in Washington, was asked by a reporter about the death of Paul Johnson. Here is what John Kerry had to say.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But yes, it's a grotesque act. It's a reflection of the challenge in the area at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you do...


WOODRUFF: John Kerry commenting just a few moments ago. A little bit hard to hear what he was saying. Our apologies for that.

I want to bring in, also here in Washington, CNN security -- or rather, military analyst and military intelligence analyst Ken Robinson.

Ken, in terms of what the options are now for the United States for the Bush administration, how do they change or do they change at all after this?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, they have to change, Judy. The security of multinational corporations doing work in the kingdom has to be satisfied.

To date, the Saudis have not been able to adequately provide protection for their own citizens, as well as those of the United States and the foreign workers. So they have to come up with a resolution as to how that's going to occur.

One of the objectives I believe of the terrorist organization is to get security forces from the West in there that will more embolden them to say that the Saudis are corrupt and they're puppets of the West. But they have to find some way to make that secure so they can maintain their infrastructure.

WOODRUFF: Isn't that what has already -- they've already been trying to do that. What more can they do to make it safe?

ROBINSON: Well, they're going to have to go to almost a city- state type environment, the same thing we're seeing happening in Afghanistan, the same thing that we're seeing happening in Iraq, where units are pulling in and are not venturing out. In Saudi Arabia, they're going to have to operate in islands. But they still are going to be vulnerable from the time they leave where they live and move to where they work. And so there are no simple solutions for this.

WOODRUFF: Well, at this point, if you are an American company or an international company and you -- with Western employees working in Saudi Arabia, what is your reason for staying there?

ROBINSON: There is a return on investment debate which is going on right now at all of the major corporations. We've been hearing about it for the last two weeks.

One of the debates, which is going on is: at what point does it become worth it if we start losing employees and then we start receiving lawsuits from the families of employees because we didn't use due diligence and pull people out when we knew that their lives were at risk? And so they're making that risk versus gain assessment right now themselves from a business standpoint. And that's one of the objectives of these terrorists, is because they know that business will have to do that.

WOODRUFF: Ken -- Ken Robinson, one other question, and I want to make a clarification, and our apologies because so much information is flying through here almost literally. I am now told that the Saudi embassy has not yet confirmed the death of Paul Johnson. My apologies. I was given that information and now I'm told that it's not correct.

One last question, though, for you, Ken. How many Westerners -- how many Americans, how many westerners are now in Saudi Arabia? Do we have those numbers?

ROBINSON: The approximate numbers are 35,000 United States expatriates working there. Approximately 35,000 from the United Kingdom and the rest are made up from countries in from Asia, a large preponderance of that being from Japan.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ken Robinson -- and I know we're going to be coming back to you, so please stand by.


Now back to Miles O'Brien in Atlanta -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Judy. With us on the line right now from Riyadh is Carolyn Kalin, who is the press attache for the U.S. embassy there.

Ms. Kalin, can you hear us OK?


O'BRIEN: All right. What can you tell us about the story from where you sit? What facts do you know? What are you aware of?

KALIN: We have confirmed that the pictures (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the Web site of the extremists appear to us to be the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). On that basis, I have a statement on behalf of Ambassador Oberwetter.

O'BRIEN: OK. Go ahead and read it.

KALIN: I'd like to say on the ambassador's behalf that, "There is tremendous sadness on the part of the family, on the part of our embassy, and on the part of the American community in Saudi Arabia (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Certainly, the inhumanity of this crime exceeds all of the boundaries of civilized people."

"As far as the effort to find Paul Johnson, we know that during these past few difficult days the Saudi security authorities and citizens alike were intensely focused on his safe return." And for this, the ambassador wants to express our gratitude.

We did have a cooperative effort under way and offers of assistance by U.S. experts certainly were well received. And I guess our conclusion is that the Saudi authorities did everything they could in these three days that they had to find Paul in Riyadh, which, of course, is a city of more than three million people, about the size of Chicago.

The other thing -- message that we would send is that now is really the time to act before other (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on this kind of similar course. And certainly, American citizens for more than 70 years have helped advance the interests of Saudi Arabia in many ways that have benefited this country.

O'BRIEN: Ms. -- Ms. Kalin, can you tell us if the embassy is taking any sort of formal position on whether Americans should remain in Saudi Arabia, and if they do, at how much peril do they remain right now?

KALIN: Well, certainly we have just been repeating to the American community here the updated travel warning issued by the State Department yesterday. That, like the one we issued April 15, strongly urges Americans to depart.

In the last couple of weeks, as we've seen the events unfold here, we've urged those Americans who do choose to remain to exercise the utmost caution. We just reissued a checklist of personal security measures that we recommend, for example. So it's tough times over here.

O'BRIEN: Ms. Kalin, do you feel safe there?

KALIN: Well, of course, as a diplomat, I'm in a bit different circumstance than private Americans. I am here in Saudi Arabia to do some important business, and I'm going to remain and do it until instructed otherwise. So that's my -- that's where I am.

O'BRIEN: If you were in -- on the other side of things, in the private sector, would you leave Saudi Arabia right now?

KALIN: You know, that's a tough question to answer because I haven't been in the private sector for about 10 years now. I've been in the foreign service, serving mostly in the Middle East.

O'BRIEN: Final thought here. We've been talking a tremendous amount about how 00 the degree of cooperation between U.S. and Saudi authorities as this investigation is prosecuted. What is your feeling on it? The Saudis truly cooperating fully with U.S. authorities in the pursuit of those who are ratcheting up this violence against Americans on the Saudi peninsula?

KALIN: Well, I guess I would say, first, you know, repeat that, in this case, of Paul Johnson, we did have a cooperative effort (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were acted upon and taken up, were well received. It is the case that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the world. That American and other visitors rely on a host government for their security. And beyond that, rely on the protection of the average Saudi citizen in our state. Certainly, that's something that we've seen Saudi citizens talk about, and the government in the last few days, the importance in their culture of protecting guests and the sacredness, in fact, in that -- of that in Islam.

O'BRIEN: One final thought here. Has the embassy offered any sort of assistance, providing any sort of assistance to Paul Johnson's widow, Thanom?

KALIN: Yes, absolutely. In fact, our ambassador is -- has visited her at several times. We'll be doing so in the course of these difficult coming days. We're in close touch likewise with Lockheed Martin (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Carol Kalin is the press attache for the U.S. embassy in Riyadh. We apologize for the quality of that phone line, but clearly feel it was important enough to press on. I think we got the basic gist of that.

We're going to go to Deb Feyerick now? Is that right?

CNN's Deb Feyerick, we were just talking about Thanom, Paul Johnson's now widow. Paul Johnson at 49 now dead, beheaded by that al Qaeda-linked group. His body found in a quadrant of Riyadh not too long after those images appeared on the Internet. It's hard to imagine how a family could endure what we're seeing unfold here -- Deb.

FEYERICK: Well, Miles, what we do know is that when the family first sat down with us, right after the 72-hour deadline had first been announced, Paul Johnson's sister told me that they were all in shock, that they were simply numb. They never believed for a moment that he would be a victim.

Paul Johnson always telling them that he felt happy in Saudi Arabia, that he felt secure, that he was never looking over his shoulder, wondering if he was going to be snatched off the street. He even, in fact, lived outside of the expatriate compound where there was little security because he just felt very comfortable being there.

Now, Johnson's sister told me that they were really shielding their mother from all television reports, telling her only that, in fact, Johnson was alive. When news came from the State Department that Johnson was dead and then it hit all of the television stations, neighbors flocked to the home where Johnson's family is in seclusion.

There have been yellow ribbons and signs put up all over the area. The friends and neighbors coming to show their respect and show their sympathy for this terrifying tragedy that the family is experiencing.

Now, Saudi security does tell CNN that the body was found in eastern Riyadh. Right now, the family is staying together. They are deciding whether, in fact, they are going to make a statement.

Right now, they're waiting five to six hours for confirmation that, in fact, the body is that of Paul Johnson. Pictures on the Web site showing that he was beheaded. Lockheed Martin saying only that we are very distressed, very disheartened, and are dealing with the family.

Earlier in the week when we spoke to that company, the company which Johnson worked for as an engineer on Apache helicopters, they said that they were not planning on making any changes in personnel or security. We do not know yet whether, in fact, this murder has changed that -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Do you know anything right now about the -- the family's immediate plans, Deb?

FEYERICK: They are going to be staying together. That's all we know for the time being.

The family came together from different areas. Many of them sort of scattered throughout Jersey. And the son traveling up from Florida so that they could all be together and wait this out.

They remained optimistic throughout it all, feeling that the Saudi efforts would, in fact, pay off. But they didn't. But right now, they're planning on staying together and take it step by step.

O'BRIEN: And do you know one way or another whether Johnson's widow, Thanom, whether she will join the family here in the United States or what her plans are for the immediate future?

FEYERICK: There is no indication of that. We have not been able to reach her directly. She did make an appeal on Al Arabiya television, but, no, we do not know whether, in fact, her intentions are to come here to the United States.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Deb Feyerick -- excuse me -- in southern New Jersey. Thank you very much.

Let's go back to Judy Woodruff in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, there are two things we can update our audience on. One is that at 5:00 Eastern, there is going to be an embassy at -- I'm sorry, a news conference at the embassy of Saudi Arabia here in Washington. CNN plans to carry that live. Again, a news conference at 5:00 Eastern from the Saudi embassy.

Separately, very briefly, a comment released just a few moments ago from the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay. Among other things, the statement said, "Terrorists will not be negotiated with. They will be hunted." He said, "Today we saw evil, but one day soon we will see this evil destroyed."

This comment from Tom DeLay, who is the -- the leading Republican under the speaker of the House. He is the House majority leader.

With me now, CNN's intelligence community, justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

Kelli, you've been talking to a number of your sources. What are they saying right now?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, we have no official comment from either the Justice Department or the FBI or the CIA on this matter. They were waiting to get official confirmation. But unfortunately, as hard as it sounds, they like to see the body to be able to move ahead.

But there was a massive team that was sent to Saudi Arabia. The FBI sent 20 specialists, hostage rescue, negotiators, and specialists to assist in this search. And this...

WOODRUFF: So this is just in the last few days?

ARENA: This is in the last week. And they've already had a U.S.-Saudi task force that was already in place with many FBI agents on the ground there that dealt with terrorism-related issues. And that was put together after Riyadh was first bombed. So big U.S. presence, law enforcement presence in the kingdom, as we speak. And we assume that moving forward that those FBI agents who are there will assist in any investigation into who murdered Paul Johnson.

And don't forget, Judy, he's the third American that has been killed in just the last week and a half. So -- so this is -- and you heard from the State Department earlier -- warning Americans to leave Saudi Arabia for their safety. Actually, we did hear a statement from Secretary of State Colin Powell a little bit earlier. Here is what he had to say.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we heard these reports. I don't know yet if they have been confirmed by Saudi authorities. But we are in touch with Saudi authorities. And if these reports are true about Mr. Johnson, we, of course, totally condemn this action.

It's an action of barbarism, an action that shows, once again, what the world is dealing with, with these kinds of individuals who behead somebody or murder somebody in cold blood, an innocent individual who was just trying to help people and trying to do his job. And, if anything, it will cause us -- I'm quite confident it will cause our Saudi colleagues to redouble our efforts to go after terrorists, wherever they are, wherever they're trying to hide, and to go after those who support this kind of terrorist activity.

And so we're waiting to hear more from Saudi Arabia. Our thoughts are with Mr. Johnson's family. They have shown a great deal of courage during this trying time, this difficult time for them. And my thoughts are with them. Our thoughts are with them, and we're waiting to get the final confirmation.

Thank you.


ARENA: Obviously, Judy, that sound bite with the secretary was taken -- was recorded a couple of hours ago.

Interestingly, when you hear the State Department warns Americans, which sounds like a common sense thing to do, you know, get out of the kingdom, that worries intelligence officials. You have 30,000 Americans inside the kingdom that are an integral part of the oil industry there. If you have all of those people heed that warning and say, let's get out of here, what you will have in the kingdom is a great deal of unrest, some chaos.

That is exactly, unfortunately, what al Qaeda and related groups thrive upon, is chaos and confusion and vulnerabilities. And so they're -- they're trying to walk a fine line here in terms of, you know, what the reaction should be.

WOODRUFF: There -- I just want to clarify on that number. Is it 30,000 westerners or 30,000... ARENA: No. Actually 30,000 Americans.

WOODRUFF: Americans, OK. We want to be clear on that number.

ARENA: And then you have another like 30,000 to 35,000 expatriates that are also from other countries as well.

WOODRUFF: From the U.K. and -- Ken Robinson...

ARENA: Exactly. Mostly from the U.K.

WOODRUFF: ... was speaking about that. One other thing, Kelli. When you talk to your sources in the intelligence community, what do they say about how hard it is to provide security for these people over there?

ARENA: You know, Saudi Arabia is its own country with its own government and its own security forces. They get to call the shots. It's their soil, their territory, they get to call the shots.

They will -- they -- they have at times insisted on providing security or having U.S. forces and even some private corporate forces work alongside of Saudi security forces. And there has been a lot of questions. And, most recently, you're hearing a crescendo about whether or not the Saudi security forces are prepared for -- for the task ahead of them.


ARENA: I mean, this is a security force that never really had to deal with the situation that they're seeing now. There has been a lot of training, intense training going on. These were forces that didn't even have bulletproof vests until a short time ago. So they're not used to conducting raids on apartment buildings and so on.

But the mass -- the search that we did see, though, I will tell you that some people on the ground there said that there really was a massive -- 15,000 law enforcement officials, Saudi officials that were involved, going door to door in this search for Paul Johnson, even using the fire department at one point because they knew the neighborhoods and they knew the nooks and crannies and where to go and how to get from place to place better than anyone.

WOODRUFF: All right. So much of the image of Saudi Arabia over the years has been a place where the -- any unrest was kept under wraps.

ARENA: That's right.

WOODRUFF: It was a place where it just wasn't allowed to bubble to the surface. And now, of course...

ARENA: Well, you know, they had to face the music, though.

WOODRUFF: Right. ARENA: Once -- once they were bombed in Riyadh, there was a new day in Saudi Arabia. There was a new level of cooperation, new level of transparency.

WOODRUFF: Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent. And before I go back to Atlanta, I just want to read part of a statement made by United States Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Of course, New Jersey being a home state of Paul Johnson's family. His children live there, his grandchild.

Among other things, he said, "I want to express my deepest sorrow and condolences to the Johnson family." He goes on to say the Saudi Arabian government has shown too much patience for these terrorist cells and the ideologies of hate they preach. Again, I'm reading a statement from Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

He said, "The United States will no longer tolerate Saudi neglect of the extremists and terrorists who live and thrive in the kingdom. All further relations with Saudi Arabia must be entirely contingent on the kingdom's progress cracking down, reining in and snuffing out its terrorist problem. Deeds, not words, must be the benchmark of Saudi progress in solving the terrorist problem that threatens its society as much as it threatens our own."

Again, this statement coming from the United States senator from New Jersey. New Jersey being the home state of Paul Johnson.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Judy, that's actually a perfect segue. Thank you so much.

In light of what Judy just said, this quote coming from the senator there in New Jersey, I want to bring in international security expert Sajjan Gohel out of London.

Mr. Gohel, I don't know if you could hear that quote that Judy Woodruff just made, but basically it was talking about the Saudi neglect of terrorists that are thriving in the kingdom. I guess, first of all, I'd like you to address that. Has there been a tremendous neglect by the Saudi kingdom toward al Qaeda and extremist groups that thrive in that area?

SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Yes, I would -- I would agree with that statement. There has been a total neglect on dealing with the situation inside Saudi Arabia for many years. The House of Saud used to reject that al Qaeda even existed in their country. Now they refuse to even recognize that they have a problem.

We're dealing with terrorist attacks taking place almost every day. You've had six major attacks in the last six weeks. We've seen compounds being hit, we've seen individuals being killed on the streets. And now we've witness the brutal beheading of Mr. Paul Johnson. The situation there is unraveling, and it's becoming totally inhospitable now for any foreigner. PHILLIPS: So, Sajjan, why is there such neglect on behalf of -- of the Saudi kingdom toward terrorism and the extremist threat, when you see how much is at stake just from an economic standpoint, from a political standpoint, the 30,000 Americans that are living there and contributing to that country, this war on terrorism that is taking place? And also, there is this relationship between the Bush dynasty, the Bush family and Saudi Arabia. With all of that at stake, why is there not more effort on behalf of the Saudi kingdom to weed out al Qaeda and the terrorist factions?

GOHEL: Well, it's a very good question. And the problem has been is that there have been significant elements inside Saudi Arabia that are sympathetic to the terrorists and sympathetic to the ideologies and causes of Osama bin Laden. Certainly not all, but some elements of the security forces have been very sympathetic to al Qaeda.

Let's not forget 15 out of the 19 hijackers on September the 11th were from Saudi Arabia, some of whom were with the Saudi security forces in the past. And they ultimately want to turn the country into a Taliban Afghanistan. They want to get rid of all the foreigners.

They don't care about all the good work they're doing there, looking after the infrastructure and the industries. They want to drive out every single one of them. And they've made the 35,000 American citizens there a target. Each and every one of them is unsafe.

The situation there has become totally precarious. It has -- it has become a very dangerous country to be in.

PHILLIPS: Sajjan, what needs to happen? Does the -- does the kingdom need to get more aggressive? How -- there obviously has to be a turn.

Now we're seeing the beheading of innocent Americans and how there really -- there are no guidelines, there are no rules. There is no sense of respect at all for human life when you start to see the beheading of innocent individuals. So what, from your perspective, as an international security expert, what needs to happen?

GOHEL: Well, I think we need to have fine actions. We need to see real deeds being done. Words are no longer enough.

We need to see the security forces inside Saudi Arabia cracking down on all of the cells that are existing. They need to improve their resources. They need to work with other countries in sharing of information. And they need to now ascertain as to how big the problem is.

Recently, I heard a ridiculous comment by a member of the Saudi government saying that they only have got one more cell to try and track down inside the country, and that is unheard of. We don't even know how many cells exist inside the United States or Europe.

They cannot make these type of ascertations. And until they realize that they actually have a big problem -- and that is a big problem -- we can make no real progress. And, unfortunately, the question is whether they recognize that these terrorists will eventually affect their own regime, we will see no progress. I fear this is going to happen again. The terrorists know that this is an immensely powerful psychological tool to behead individuals. They will try and do it again.

PHILLIPS: What will happen if westerners do leave? There are 30,000 Americans there now. If, indeed, there is a mass -- massive movement to leave Saudi Arabia, what does that mean for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, the growth of terrorist extremism, and also oil?

GOHEL: Well, yes, indeed, you've raised a very important point. The oil factor is essential. If many foreigners end up leaving the country, that will have a global impact on the oil, that will have regional instability inside Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. And ultimately, the terrorists will try and achieve that.

They have threatened a miserable bloody year ahead for all foreigners. We are witnessing that as we speak. Ultimately, if Saudi Arabia was to disintegrate, that would have devastating consequences on the Middle East and on the region. And it's important that the House of Saud recognizes that and they realize that these terrorists are no friend to anyone.

PHILLIPS: How much support is there for al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia? Is it a small majority, medium, large?

GOHEL: Well, there is a significant following for the ideas of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. That's not to say that all of them believe that, of course. Not many Saudis are polled what is taking place inside the country.

Many of them are very much against violence as a solution. But the problem is you don't need all of them. You just need a few.

A small number of them are powerful enough to cause major disruption inside a big country. And if we look at the fact that we're witnessing attacks in western Saudi Arabia and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) compound in eastern Saudi Arabia, in Khobar, and in Riyadh, the attacks are taking place all over. Many Saudi youth are turning towards violence and following fundamentalist ideas as advocated by Osama bin Laden. The problem is big.

PHILLIPS: International security expert Sajjan Gohel, live there out of London. Tremendous insight. Thank you so much, Sajjan.

We want to bring you back here now to Atlanta, Georgia. Mike Brooks, former member of the FBI counterterrorism, now employee here at CNN.

You and I got talking about this a little bit from your perspective, from being with the FBI. Now we've sort of heard Sajjan's insight from that international security perspective. What's your take when we talk about westerners leaving, al Qaeda staying, becoming stronger, the Saudi government neglecting this threat of extremism and letting it thrive in the country?

BROOKS: Well, it would not only be oil, Kyra, but you're also talking about defense, telecommunications. Defense on the side that there are a number of U.S. troops there.

In fact, they moved a large base there in Dhahran from -- after the bombing in 1996. They moved it from Dhahran to a more remote base. And now you've also got employees that work as defense contractors, like Paul Johnson did.

They're supporting the U.S. troops there, as well as the Saudis. The Saudis are one of the United States' biggest customers when it comes to defense contracts to supplying them with weapons, planes. They are one of our biggest customers. And if you take all of these people and take them out of the country, it's going to have an extreme impact, not only from the oil, but also in telecommunications and defense.

PHILLIPS: Well, from an intelligence perspective, from working with the FBI and the counterterrorism department, does the Saudi kingdom have the power, have the resources? Not just the will, but the power and the resources to obliterate extremism in the kingdom? And how this one senator out of New Jersey said, it's thriving there.

BROOKS: I think -- I think they do. And I also think, with the help of the U.S. government, they have the power to do this. But they also -- you know, they farm a lot of things out to other people. You know, they don't do a lot of things themselves.

They farm it out and they bring third country nationals to come in and do some of their menial work. That -- that also was -- has been talked about. You know, what about all of these people they bring in to do -- they call them third country nationals to do their menial work from countries like Bangladesh and folks from that region.

You know, what kind of checks do they do on these folks that they just bring in to do their work? You know, they bring thousands of these people in to do work like this, and we don't know what kind of checks they're doing on them. You know, immigrants coming into their own country. You know, are they cracking down immigration-wise on people coming into Saudi Arabia? That also is something that needs to be taken a look at.

PHILLIPS: Do you recommend the westerners leave?

BROOKS: I -- it's hard to say, Kyra. It's one of these things you know -- you know, if you leave, they win. If you don't leave, then there is a chance that someone else could get killed.

I mean, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when this happens again. But I think we would be succumbing to them if they did pull out -- if all Americans pulled out. But again, you have to use caution.

You know, it's not only Saudi Arabia. You have to also use caution anywhere in the world now if you are a westerner, if you're an American, if you're on vacation, if you're there working for a contractor, whether it be defense, telecommunications. Any place in this world you're vulnerable now.

And it's a different world. It's not the way it used to be. And we talk about everything now post 9/11. Well, this is -- again, we're talking about post 9/11.

PHILLIPS: Mike Brooks, thanks so much. We're going to wrap things up here for a few minutes out of Atlanta and go back to Washington, D.C. Our Judy Woodruff standing by there.


On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.