RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi security forces found the head of American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr. in a freezer during a raid on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout that came days before the expiration of a monthlong amnesty offered to militants, officials said yesterday.
The raid targeted the hideout of the Saudi Al Qaeda chief, and two other militants were killed, the Interior Ministry said. It was not clear whether Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi, the man believed to be the top Al Qaeda leader in the kingdom, was among three militants reported wounded. Three Saudi security officers also were wounded in the gun battle Tuesday night.
Security forces also seized weapons, including an antiaircraft SAM-7 missile; explosives, chemicals, video cameras, and cash from the Al Qaeda house.
"Saudi authorities are pursuing every lead in their terror investigations," Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said in a statement. "They are absolutely determined to bring these murderers to justice and end the threat to the peaceful citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia."
Johnson, 49, an engineer with
Video from Saudi TV of the site of the raid in the King Fahd neighborhood of Riyadh showed the hulks of several burned-out cars, a gutted pickup truck, and another car with a shattered windshield and bullet holes. The footage also showed bloodstained and bullet-pocked walls, a bloodied blanket, and a white robe, torn and pink with blood.
US Embassy spokeswoman Carol Kalin said Saudi authorities had informed the embassy of the head's discovery, and consular officials in Washington were in the process of notifying Johnson's family.
Johnson's son, Paul M. Johnson III, reached by telephone, said he has received no official confirmation of the identification. He had flown to Washington for a news conference with Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, to press the Saudi Embassy for information about the search for the body.
An official at the Interior Ministry said authorities were holding the wife and three children of Aoofi after the raid.
The statement from the Saudi Embassy in Washington said security forces were investigating a residence in the capital's King Fahd district when they were attacked with various weapons, including hand and rocket-propelled grenades.
They returned fire, killing two suspected militants, Issa bin Saad Mohammed al-Oshen, who was on Saudi Arabia's most-wanted list, and Mujab Abu-Ras Al-Dossary, the statement said.
Militants kidnapped Johnson on June 12 in Riyadh and followed through on a threat to kill him if the kingdom did not release its Al Qaeda prisoners. On June 17 an Al Qaeda group claiming responsibility posted an Internet message that showed grisly photographs of a beheaded body. Later, video of the beheading was posted.
Hours after the first pictures of the beheading appeared on the Internet, Saudi security forces shot and killed Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the alleged mastermind of Johnson's kidnapping and beheading. Aoofi was believed to have succeeded Moqrin.
Last week, US authorities announced they had called off the search for the body of Johnson, who had worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade. He grew up in Eagleswood Township, N.J.
Under the amnesty, which expires tomorrow, the government pledged not to seek the death penalty against militants who surrender. The offer has failed to attract hard-core militants, but specialists say some who have come forward could provide valuable information. Four wanted men have surrendered, including a confidant of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and 27 others from a number of countries have been repatriated.
Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest in London, said the surrenders would not have "an enormous impact." "The key militants, the senior members of Al Qaeda, and the people who are active outside the kingdom, these are people who are not likely to be taken in by any amnesty at all," he said.