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<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width=629 border=0><TBODY><TR><TD colSpan=3>The militants are nuts ... seems evil ...

Militants 'behead US hostage'

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Mr Johnson's wife pleaded for his release on Arabic TV

</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><!-- E IIMA -->Al-Qaeda militants are reported to have beheaded an American engineer they have been holding hostage in Saudi Arabia since last week.

Arabic TV network al-Arabiya said Paul Marshall Johnson had been executed, and an Islamist website showed photographs of the apparent beheading.

Al-Qaeda had told the Saudi government to free jailed militants by Friday, or it would kill Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson, 49, was seized in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last Saturday.

"As we promised the mujahideen, we have beheaded the American hostage Paul Marshall after the deadline that the mujahideen gave to the tyrannical Saudi government passed," a statement signed by the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said on the al-Islah website, according to Reuters news agency.

Pleas ignored

The killing came despite pleas for mercy from Mr Johnson's family which were broadcast in the Arab world, including on the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel.

His son had said his father was simply doing his job, and begged the kidnappers to set him free for Fathers' Day this weekend.

Mr Johnson's wife, Thanom, a Thai resident, also appealed directly to the kidnappers to spare her husband's life. A video from al-Qaeda appeared on an Islamist website on Tuesday, apparently showing Mr Johnson blindfolded. A man identified as Mr Johnson, who was employed as a helicopter engineer for US defence contractor Lockheed Martin, is heard giving his name.

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