World leaders condemned the beheading of an American hostage by an al-Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia, with US President George W. Bush calling the killers "militant thugs" and British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying the slaying was "an act of barbarism."
They were joined in their condemnation by Islamic leaders in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, but at least one said American policy was to blame for the killing of Paul Johnson.
Irfan Awwas, chairman of the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, a radical Islamic group, said yesterday that the killings would continue unless the US leaves Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The killing of innocent people is wrong," Awwas said. "But it is a result of the United States policies in the Middle East."
French President Jacques Chirac said he was "horrified" by the slaying of Johnson, denouncing the act as inhuman and shameful.
"I am horrified by the beastly methods that are very difficult to describe because they are at the complete opposite of everything we consider respectable as humans," Chirac said Friday at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
"I can only express the shame that we all feel faced with the behavior coming from human beings of this nature."
In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard called the slaying an "evil act without any conceivable justification.
"All decent people will be appalled at the callous beheading of the United States hostage in Saudi Arabia, Paul Johnson," Howard said in a statement yesterday. "It is a sickening reminder of both the face and behavior of international terrorism."
Johnson, 49, an engineer who had worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, was kidnapped last weekend by militants who followed through on a threat to kill him by Friday if the Saudi kingdom did not release its al-Qaeda prisoners. An al-Qaeda group claiming responsibility posted an Internet message that showed grisly photographs of a beheaded body on Friday.
Hours later, Saudi security forces tracked down and killed Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the leader of the terrorist group, and four other militants, according to Saudi and US officials.
However, a message later posted on an Islamic militant Web site denied that al-Moqrin had been killed.
A top Saudi Arabian official expressed his country's remorse for Johnson's killing and promised to find and punish those responsible.
"We did everything we could to find him," Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser Crown Prince Abdullah, said in Washington. "We are deeply sorry that it was not enough."
In Amman, the Jordanian government issued a statement condemning the "barbaric act" and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice. "Such heinous acts of terror do not represent the true values of Islam which is based on tolerance, compassion and peaceful coexistence."
Blair, also at the EU summit in Brussels, expressed "shock at such an act of barbarism."
"This shows the nature of the people we are fighting day in, day out, around the world," he said.
Bush, speaking in Fort Lewis, Washington, said the assailants were "trying to intimidate America."
"The murder of Paul shows the evil nature of the enemy we face," Bush said. "These are barbaric people. There's no justification whatsoever for his murder. And yet they killed him in cold blood."
The militants are "trying to shake our will. They're trying to get us to retreat from the world. America will not retreat. America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs," he said.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "these kinds of brutal acts do not help anybody."
"My sympathies go to his family and loved ones, and I hope the perpetrators would eventually be brought to justice because we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior in today's world," he said at the UN headquarters in New York.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch called Johnson's slaying "a breach of the most fundamental standards of humanity.
"Holding someone hostage, and then brutally murdering him, is a heinous crime that no political cause can justify," said Joe Stork, Washington director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Division.
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