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US Condemns Beheading of American Hostage in Saudi Arabia - 2004-06-18

Secretary of State Colin Powell has condemned the killing of American hostage Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia as an act of barbarism and says it will prompt U.S. and Saudi authorities to re-double efforts to root out terrorism. U.S. officials are renewing a travel warning for Americans visiting the Middle East and North Africa.

The Islamist website which carried the announcement of the execution by the Saudi branch of al-Qaida also ran pictures of the American's decapitated body. And in a talk with reporters after the internet posting, the Secretary of State condemned the killing of the U.S. aircraft engineer and said it will spur stronger international action to combat terrorism.

"It's an action of barbarism, an action that 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 was just trying to help people, just trying to do his job," he said. "And if anything, it will cause us, and I'm quite confident will cause our Saudi colleagues to re-double our efforts to go after terrorists who ever they are, where ever they are trying to hide."

Mr. Powell said the thoughts of the Bush administration are with Mr. Johnson's family, who he said had shown great courage in dealing with the kidnapping ordeal.

There were similar comments from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called the killing a brutal act and intolerable behavior that can advance no one's political cause.

Officials here said the State Department is preparing to issue a new regional travel alert in the wake of Mr. Johnson's death, advising American citizens in the Middle East and North Africa to be particularly mindful of suspicious activity that might suggest they are under surveillance by would-be kidnappers.

Late Thursday, it also issued a similar advisory specific to Saudi Arabia, reiterating a warning to U.S. citizens to defer travel to Saudi Arabia and strongly urging Americans already there to depart.

The State Department in April ordered the evacuation of non-essential employees and diplomatic dependents from the U.S. embassy and two consulates in Saudi Arabia.

The resident community of private U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia is believed to number about 30,000 though officials say there has been a noticeable increase in departures in recent days.