The Magazine

War Againstthe Infidels

The message behind the beheadings.

Jul 5, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 41 • By PAUL MARSHALL
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THE BEHEADING of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia was terrible enough in itself, but for me it struck strangely close to home.

Johnson's full name was Paul Marshall Johnson. When he was kidnapped, some media outlets, and the terrorists, referred to him as "Paul Marshall (Johnson)," with the surname in parentheses. The first I knew of the abduction was a phone call to my office from a network evening news reporter who thought that, since I have written on the Saudis and terrorism and was planning to return to the Middle East, I must be the one who had been kidnapped.

Then on Friday, June 18, al Qaeda announced Johnson's death with the words, "In answer to what we promised . . . to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) . . . the infidel got his fair treatment," prompting more calls from friends and reporters.

Happily, of course, I could reassure them. But the episode underlined the fact that all of us are potential targets--and not just as Americans. Certainly, al Qaeda wants to kill Americans and drive them from the Arabian Peninsula, not least to cripple Saudi oil production. But the extremists, who beheaded a South Korean last week, have many more enemies than this and much larger goals.

The statement announcing Johnson's death referred to him as an "infidel"--in Arabic kufr, unbeliever--rather than as an American. This is entirely consistent with al Qaeda's religiously based worldview and its recent actions.

A few weeks before Johnson's death, the man believed to be his murderer, al Qaeda operative Abdelaziz al-Muqrin (himself reportedly killed on June 18 by Saudi security forces), had claimed credit for the May 29 massacre of 22 people at Khobar, Saudi Arabia. His statement on that occasion vowed, "We renew our determination to repel the crusader forces and their arrogance, to liberate the land of Muslims, to apply sharia [Islamic law] and cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of infidels." The Khobar attacks, too, were directed at "infidels" in general rather than just Americans.

But to understand indelibly who al Qaeda thinks its enemies are, it is advisable to read an even more chilling document. It is a long interview with another Saudi terrorist, one of al-Muqrin's followers, published on the al Qaeda-linked website Sawt Al-Jihad and translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Although only brief excerpts can be given here, lengthy excerpts are available on MEMRI's website. The speaker, Fawwaz bin Muhammad Al-Nashami, commanded the Al-Quds [Jerusalem] Brigade, which took responsibility for the Khobar killings. In the interview he describes the murderous rampage (except where indicated, bracketed inserts are the translator's):

We tied the infidel [a Briton] by one leg [behind the car]. . . . Everyone watched the infidel being dragged. . . . The infidel's clothing was torn to shreds, and he was naked in the street. The street was full of people, as this was during work hours, and everyone watched the infidel being dragged, praise and gratitude be to Allah. . . .

We entered one of the companies' [offices], and found there an American infidel who looked like a director of one of the companies. I went into his office and called him. When he turned to me, I shot him in the head, and his head exploded. We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa, and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We asked Allah to accept [these acts of devotion] from us, and from him. This was the South African infidel.

We went out from the company [offices] and found our brother, Nimr the hero, standing at the entrance to the company and guarding us, drinking a little water as though he were on a hike. [He acted this way] because of his great courage--may Allah have mercy on him. . . .

At the same time, we found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting. We continued in the search for the infidels, and we slit the throats of those we found among them. . . .

We found Filipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise], we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised. That same day, we purged Muhammad's land of many Christians and polytheists. . . .

Afterwards, we turned to the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested a while. Then we went up to the next floor, found several Hindu dogs, and cut their throats. . . .

The Indian Muslims told us that their manager was a vile Hindu who did not permit them to pray, and that he would arrive shortly. When [the manager] arrived, we verified his religion by means of his identifying documents, and we kept him with us for a short time [before killing him--PM].