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Family of slain captive remains in seclusion

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- The grieving family of an American beheaded by Al Qaeda militants spent the day in seclusion at a town house decorated with yellow ribbons yesterday as state and national leaders condemned his killing.

Those close to the family of Paul M. Johnson Jr. were horrified by the slaying in Saudi Arabia. "They just can't keep taking American hostages, doing that to them, and putting it on the Internet for everybody to see," said John Hayes, a childhood friend of Johnson.

An Al Qaeda group said yesterday it killed Johnson, 49, posting an internet message that showed photographs of a beheaded body. The statement, along with three still photos, was published on a Web site where the group frequently makes announcements.

The statement appeared around the time that a 72-hour deadline set by the kidnappers ended. Militants threatened to kill him if the kingdom did not release its Al Qaeda prisoners.

Johnson's relatives were at his niece's house in Galloway Township, in southern New Jersey. A man who was standing in front of the home identified himself only as "Bill" and said the family did not want to talk to reporters.

Johnson's employer, Lockheed Martin, issued a statement yesterday afternoon expressing the company's grief. At the time of his abduction, Johnson was working on targeting and night vision systems for Apache helicopters.

Governor James E. McGreevey called his death "a horrific tragedy for all who value decency, integrity and freedom."

The slaying sent shock waves through the communities in New Jersey where Johnson grew up, and in Florida, where he later moved. His son, Paul Johnson III, still lives in Port St. John, Fla.

In suburban Philadelphia, the family of American businessman Nicholas Berg, who was beheaded in Iraq last month, offered condolences to Johnson's family and others who have been killed in Iraq.

New Jersey politicians denounced the killing.

"I am utterly appalled at the brutal, heinous murder of Paul Johnson," said Senator John Corzine. "As we know all too well, terrorism knows no boundaries, and the cold-blooded crime that ended Mr. Johnson's life must strengthen our commitment and resolve to win the war against terrorists."

Corzine and fellow New Jersey Democrat, Senator Frank Lautenberg, met Tuesday with the Saudi government's top foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir, in hopes of getting Johnson freed.

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