2004 Transcript

Adel Al-Jubeir's press conference on murder of Paul Johnson
Transcript of the press conference on the murder in Riyadh of U.S. hostage Paul Johnson given by Adel Al-Jubeir, Foreign Policy Advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah, at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC on Friday, June 18, 2004

Good afternoon, everybody. It is with great pain and sadness that we announce the death, the brutal murder of Mr. Paul Marshall Johnson in Saudi Arabia. His body was recovered shortly in the northern part of Riyadh.

For the past week, men and women of different faiths and nationalities have been praying and hoping that Mr. Paul Marshall Johnson would be found and returned safely to his family. Today we are faced with the tragedy of his gruesome death at the hands of barbarians who have rejected the teachings of their faith and the principles of humanity. His brutal murder illustrates the cruelty and inhumanity of the enemy we all are fighting.
On behalf of my country and every individual with a sense of decency and humanity, I offer our most heart-felt condolences to his family and friends. You have gone through a terrible ordeal, and our thoughts and prayers are with you. All of us grieve with you, and your pain is our pain. May God Almighty grant you strength and patience as you go through this difficult time.

The people of Saudi Arabia are outraged by the cruel and cold-blooded murder of this innocent man. His murder has shaken us to the core. It is a terrible lie that the cowards who committed this inhumane act claim to be Muslim. There is no justification in our faith for harming the innocent. Islam teaches us that the killing of an innocent soul is tantamount to the killing of all humanity. This is what the murderers have done and they will have to answer to God Almighty for their grave sin.

Since his abduction, Saudi authorities, in close coordination with their American counterparts, have embarked upon an intensive search to find him.

Over 15,000 security personnel from Saudi Arabia were involved, thousands of locations were searched and leads pursued. We did everything we could to find him, and we are deeply sorry that it was not enough.

For more than a decade Mr. Johnson lived a peaceful life in our country, which he grew to love and respect. He made many friends among us who will mourn his loss. We owe him our solemn commitment to pursue the criminals and bring them to justice, and with the help of God Almighty, we will.

If the intention of the criminals was to shake our resolve, they are mistaken. We are united as a nation and determined as a people to rid them from our midst.

I would like to take a couple of questions, but before I do so, I want to give you an update. As we speak Saudi security forces are engaged in a siege in the al-Maalaz area of Riyadh, which is in central Riyadh where we believe members of al-Qaeda are hiding out. There have been firefights. A number of terrorists have been killed. I cannot confirm the numbers for you yet, but we will be keeping you updated. So I would urge you to follow the Saudi Press Agency on this matter.

And I'd be happy to take a couple of questions. Yes?

Q Adel, can you give us more specifics about what your forces are doing now to try to find where he was held -- (off mike)? And is the firefight that's ongoing now, do you have any indication whether that is with people who may be guilty in this crime?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: It is a little too early to tell because this is occurring as we speak. We believe that they are members of the al Qaeda cell that remains in Saudi Arabia. They may be involved in the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Johnson. But it is too early to tell. The fighting and the siege are still going on. Once it is over we'll have a much better picture.

Q And what are you doing to try to find them otherwise? You had 15,000 out in the search for Mr. Johnson –
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Yes, and we will continue to search. We will continue to devote all of our resources that we have at our disposal to find the criminals who murdered Mr. Johnson and to bring them to justice. This is -- the search is not over.

Q Can you explain to the American people if this, you believe, is an attack against Americans, or is this a consequence of an internal fight against the Kingdom and the royal family?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: This is an attack against humanity. This is an attack against decency. This is an attack against the innocent. This is an attack against the universal values that we all share as human beings. And this is something that requires a response from all of us. There is no justification whatsoever for doing harm to the innocent.

Q Is this a consequence of –
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Excuse me. I want to be organized. One question, please, because I know there are a lot of people here. Yes?

Q The State Department has issued a warning urging U.S. citizens to leave Saudi Arabia because there is a possibility for other attacks against Americans. Do you agree? Do you think they should leave?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: We cannot tell the U.S. government what it should or should not advise its citizens. We believe that we are doing our best to maintain the safety and security of our citizens and our residents.
We believe that one of the objectives of the terrorists is to drive people out of Saudi Arabia, and so as a consequence, we believe that calls for withdrawing people from Saudi Arabia could inadvertently play into the hands of the terrorists. So we don't support moves like this, but it's not our decision. This is a decision by the State Department. Yes?

Q Was Mr. Johnson's body found in that section of Riyadh that had been sealed by security forces, or was it a different part of the city?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: It was found in a remote area to the north of Riyadh. And what we're trying to ascertain is, was he murdered and then his body was carried elsewhere? When was he murdered? We are just now going through the forensics. Was he murdered today? Was he murdered shortly after the video taken? These are things that are still in progress, so I really am not in a position to comment on them accurately. Yes?

Q You mentioned there's a firefight with members of an al-Qaeda cell that remains in Saudi Arabia. Some people today have criticized the Saudi government for statements recently that there is one cell left, that that demonstrates that the government just is not realistic about what the true threat is from Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia. Are you saying that you think there's one cell left?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think that we have not underestimated the threat to Saudi Arabia by these criminals. We understand the extent of their reach. We have seen the murders that they can inflict on the innocent, whether it was in May of last year in Riyadh or in November again in Riyadh, or whether it was this spring or whether it was today.
We -- when we -- I believe with the issue of the one cell, when we know something we speak about it. We know definitely of a large cell in Saudi Arabia that remains, but I personally would not go so far as to say that this is all that exists in Saudi Arabia because they can come up from other places. But our objective is to go after them. Our objective is to go after those who support them, those who condone their actions, and to bring them to justice. Yes.

Q Can you talk about the -- what the FBI's role will be in investigating this murder?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: The -- our two countries have very, very close relations in terms of intelligence sharing and law enforcement, and our two countries have engaged in very close coordination in this effort. There are American security personnel in Saudi Arabia who are working with their Saudi counterparts and have been for the past year, so I would imagine that it is as extensive as you can find anywhere. We're working this as one team.
I promised you the next question.

Q In terms of the forensics, I understand it's still ongoing, but is there some suspicion that, in fact, he was murdered right after the video was made and not murdered today?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: I wouldn't want to comment on that because we just confirmed the death shortly and the forensics are still going on. Is it possible? It could be possible. Can I say this with certainty? No, I can't. We need a little bit more time, I think. We will make all the information that we have available so that people know the full story, but we don't want to jump the gun and confuse speculation or judgment with facts.
Maybe I'll take a couple more questions. Yes.

Q Adel, would you welcome any military help from the United States in pursuing these terrorists?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: We have -- I've seen the reports, which are not accurate. We have our own military forces. In the war against terrorism, the main forces would be law enforcement-type personnel, as well as what you would call SWAT teams, specialized forces.
We are training our forces in that area with the help of a number of countries, including the United States. We're increasing the numbers. We are using special forces from the military and from the national guard to provide them with back-up when it comes to securing facilities or locations. We are using a lot of our police officers and undercover agents in the war against the terrorists. And that really is the most effective means of doing it.
It is -- we are in for a difficult time, no doubt. We recognize this. We also recognize that with the passing of time, our capabilities increase and our strength increases, while hopefully those of the terrorists decrease. And we just have to stick with it, and we have to confront them, and we have to show determination and pursue them with vigor. And we hope that in the end, God willing, we will prevail. There is no doubt in our mind. Yes?

Q Having said all that, is there anything the Saudi government should be doing differently?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: If you have any ideas, please tell us. We are determined to do whatever we can in order to go after the terrorists.
We have put in place financial control mechanisms in our banking system and regulated our charities to ensure that they cannot be taken advantage of by terrorists or evildoers. We have beefed up our intelligence capabilities. We have beefed up our special forces. We have hardened targets that we believe are of value. We have extensive cooperation from our citizens, who are outraged by this. And we -- and with every passing day, we look at areas where we can improve our efforts, and we implement it. We have enhanced our technical capabilities, and we continue to do so; the training of our officers, and we continue to do so. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to confront this evil and destroy it. Our people demand no less, and they deserve no less. Yes?

Q A little bit more about the firefight and when it began, how it's linked to this. Was it an outgrowth, for instance, of the search for Mr. Johnson?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: I can't give you the details, because literally it was as I was coming in that I could tell you about it. It's in the -- I can tell you it is in the Maalaz area. It involves a number of suspects. It involves two cars. There was shooting. We believe a number of the suspects were killed. I can't tell you what the number is. You should watch what comes out from the Saudi Press Agency and what comes -- and what happens as developments on the ground unfold. And as we are speaking, a siege is continuing. So anything I tell you would be premature. Yes?

Q What is the government telling Americans they can do to, you know, kind of be more aware in Saudi Arabia of these types of people, about ways they can possibly avoid kidnapping? Are there any steps that you guys are giving them?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: We are telling all of our citizens and residents to be vigilant, to report suspicious activity, to take care when they go about their business. At the end of the day, one of the objectives of terrorists is to disrupt the functioning of a modern society, and if it were up to them, they would have everybody panicked and they would have everybody hiding in their homes or elsewhere. So there is a balance between continuing with a normal life and being careful in terms of areas you go to, or reporting suspicious activities and things of that nature. Yes?

Q Right after this terrorist act in Khobar two weeks ago, a high-ranking Saudi official, actually it was your ambassador in London, and former head of Saudi intelligence, stated that terrorist acts -- the terrorist act at Khobar will be the last one, and that Saudis know (definitely ?) where these terrorists are and how to apprehend them. Was he misleading or –
MR. AL-JUBEIR: I haven't seen this quote, and I don't know if it's an accurate quote or not because our ambassador to London is a very distinguished gentleman. Our ambassador to London was head of our intelligence service for almost 30 years. And I doubt that the statement, as you read it, would be something that he would say. We all know that terrorism can strike whenever. Even if you -- even if we eliminate all of the al-Qaeda terrorists in Saudi Arabia, some other terrorist can come by and shoot. So the notion that one can definitively say "this is the end of it", I don't believe that he would have said this, so I believe this must have been a mischaracterization of his remarks. Yes?

Q With all the fears around security for foreigners in the kingdom, how confident are you that you can prevent an exodus of foreigners that would wreck the capability of Saudi Arabia to supply oil to the world?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Well, I believe the second part of your statement is not accurate. Over 90 percent of the employees of Saudi Aramco are Saudi; less than 10 percent are foreigners.
We believe we can manage our oil facilities and oil production with all Saudi personnel. We also have not seen the mass exodus of foreigners. We believe that people who are living on the ground are more aware of the situation and the dangers than people who watch it on television, where issues can be magnified. We will have to see what -- how the situation unfolds. I believe people are aware of the determination and vigor with which the Saudi government is pursuing the terrorists and trying to deal with this threat, and I would believe that this would reassure people about their safety.
Okay. Neil?

Q You've made several very clear statements of condemnation here today, and yet I wonder how concerned you are about the impact this will have on U.S.-Saudi relations and what message you would like to take directly to the American people right now.
MR. AL-JUBEIR: We have very strong ties with the United States. We have had them for over 60 years. Our countries have been friends and allies during that time. In this current phase of our relationship, we are both under siege by the terrorists. They are targeting the United States and they are targeting Saudi Arabia, and anyone who tells you otherwise is being naive.
We will win this war, no doubt, with the help of God, if we work together as we have and if we refrain from finger-pointing and leveling accusations at each other, but put our hands together, as our security people have been doing, and pursue the terrorists and bring them to justice. The American people must know that the Saudi people are with them, just like the Saudi people know that the American people are with them. It is the two of us who are being murdered and slaughtered by these evil terrorists, and it is the two of us, working together, who can crush them. There is determination on the part of the U.S. government, as there is determination on the part of the Saudi government, to do so. Yes. Sir, you.

Q Yes. Given the criticism that comes out of certain political circles here in the U.S. on Saudi Arabia, has this affected the willingness of the United States to assist and share technologically with the means that the U.S. is alone capable of providing in terms of fighting this terrorism, or have you detected any more reticence because of the political (criticism ?) that comes out (here ?)?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: No. The U.S. government is determined to support us in every way it can. We are appreciative and thankful for that assistance. The cooperation between our two governments in the war on terrorism could not be stronger.
It is unfortunate that you have people in the U.S., in particular in this town, who try to make political hay and say things that are irresponsible or say things that are not correct. But that will not change the reality of the strong links between our two countries and of the strong cooperation between our countries, and those in positions of influence know so. Those who are not pontificate, unfortunately. And this town, especially during the month of June and July, is full of hot air.
I'll take one more question, and then I'll -- okay?

Q You mentioned 15,000 police officers were –
MR. AL-JUBEIR: They were security personnel, because we have -- between undercover, counterterrorism and –
Q Can you talk a little bit more about what was done to try to find him and whether you found any information beyond this specific incident that would help thwart terrorism??
MR. AL-JUBEIR: What they did is they went through the neighborhoods where they believed most of the terrorists were. A number of them, or a large percentage of them, comes from one particular area in Riyadh. Most of the safehouses that we found in Riyadh are in one particular area of Riyadh. So they combed through the area building by building, house by house. I believe over 2,000 locations were searched. They brought in firefighters who know the neighborhoods and who know the people in the neighborhood to provide assistance. They tried -- they pursued leads, and they just combed the area.
One of the more difficult parts of this was that the terrorists, or the kidnappers, did not communicate. The only communication we had from them was what they posted on the website several days ago. And so that's what we had to go by. We looked at other areas that, if you allow me, I won't get into, because it gets a little bit into the operations of it, but that's what they've been pursuing.
And the firefight that I was talking to you about, that is occurring as we speak. They discovered a number of suspects who were fleeing in cars and they pursued them, and now they have them under siege. We have a number of them killed, and as I mentioned earlier, I can't tell you how many because we don't know yet. But we will provide you with -- we will provide you with the details as they unfold.

Q And those people are related to the search that was going on, and that's how they found those people?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Pardon, do you mind repeating? I just got a note that –
Q So the people who were fleeing today that are now under siege were related to the search for –
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Yes, we believe they are part of the al-Qaeda network in the Kingdom. We don't know how related they are to the murder of Mr. Johnson, and as I mentioned earlier, we probably will not know until we apprehend them and until we put together the facts.
But I just wanted to come and offer our condolences to the Johnson family as well as give you an update on where things stand. But we will keep you informed of the situation. Thank you all for coming.