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Feyerick: Johnson felt safe in Saudi Arabia

CNN's Deborah Feyerick
On the Scene
Saudi Arabia
Al Qaeda
New Jersey

(CNN) -- Al Qaeda militants have beheaded American hostage Paul Johnson Jr. after the Saudi government failed to meet his captors' demands, according to U.S. and Saudi officials, and photographs on an Islamist Web site. Johnson, an employee of Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, was kidnapped Saturday in Riyadh.

CNN's Kyra Phillips spoke Friday with CNN's Deborah Feyerick in New Jersey, where Johnson's family lives.

FEYERICK: Moments after the pictures of Paul Johnson appeared on the Web site, the U.S. State Department did call the family.

The family right now -- Johnson's sister, Johnson's mother, his son, his grandson -- they are all within a home in a private area, a secluded area. The media [are] keeping a respectful distance away.

We do know that as soon as the news came out, though, many people began going to the home to offer their condolences, to offer their support. There has been a groundswell of support in this area, Eagleswood, News Jersey, Paul Johnson's hometown.

Family [members are] deciding whether to make some sort of a statement. They had told us that they were going to wait between five to six hours before they say anything, possibly. They want confirmation that, in fact, the man in the video and those still photographs is Paul Johnson.

They did issue an emotional plea on CNN. They were really optimistic. Through this whole ordeal, they really had a lot of faith in the Saudi government mounting an extensive effort to try to find Paul Johnson.

CNN learned there were some 15,00 security forces and police officers fanning out across the Saudi kingdom. Some of them were actually going door-to-door in ... Islamist religious areas, and that they were trying to hopefully to come upon Paul Johnson. Clearly, they did not.

The State Department just recently issued a statement that said that further attacks are likely. U.S. citizens should leave the country. As a matter of fact, one source told CNN, "We want Americans to leave."

Johnson lived away from the expatriate compound, which does have much more security.

In fact, he was living with his wife outside of the compound, and when he was abducted, he was alone in his car. His car was found in the parking lot of a university.

So he felt safe there -- that's what his sister told me.

His sister said that he had never had any cause for concern while living there. And I had asked, were you ever looking over your shoulder -- was he ever looking over his shoulder? Had he started taking note of some of what was going on?

She said he still did not feel afraid. He really loved living there. He had a great respect for Saudi Arabia and for the Muslim culture.

Lockheed Martin has really given the family a lot of support. They had counselors with the family the entire time. They had representatives with the family to try to make this as easy as possible.

Initially, when we contacted Lockheed Martin earlier in the week, they had said that they had no plans or would not say whether they had any plans to pull out personnel from the area.

We don't know whether, in fact, that has changed.

They were also providing support to Johnson's wife. But Paul Johnson, described as a 6'2" man, very gentle, very kind man, no known enemies. Clearly, this has come as a shock not only to his family but his wife and to all those who ever knew him.

One thing that was so interesting, we have seen other American captives, other American hostages. This was the first time that there was actually a big move amongst some of the Saudis themselves to try to free an American captive.

One of Johnson's co-workers, under a pseudonym, Saad the Believer, sent a letter to a number of Islamist militant Web sites pleading for Johnson, saying that he was a Muslim -- this friend -- that he was a Muslim and as a Muslim, he was offering Johnson his personal protection. And the friend quotes the Koran and says, "killing him now would be a violation of Islamic law."

There was also big support from many Saudi clerics and religious leaders, who also came out begging for the kidnappers not to kill this American.

The letter that was posted on the Web site created a lot of discussion ... [with] some people saying, 'Yes, let him go, let him go.'

Others point[ed] out that Johnson ... was working for ... Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor ... on Apache helicopters. He was making them better, and in the words of one of the writers ... so they could kill Muslims, and that's what the terrorists put on their Web site.

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