By Paul O’Hare, Scottish Press Association
Former Saudi prisoner Sandy Mitchell today spoke of his friendship with a US
hostage beheaded by al Qaida militants.
He described Paul Johnson as "one of the kindest men I have ever known" and recalled how the American and his Thai wife supported his own wife while he was in prison.
Mr Mitchell’s comments came as it emerged last night that the al Qaida cell which beheaded Mr Johnson in Saudi Arabia may have been linked to an attack on a BBC crew.
Saudi authorities confiscated three cars used by the group, including one believed to have been used in the attack on cameraman Simon Cumbers and security correspondent Frank Gardner.
The vehicles were recovered following a gun battle between Saudi security forces and the militants which left four terrorists dead including their leader Abdulaziz al-Moqrin.
Mr Cumbers was killed and Mr Gardner seriously wounded in the June 6 shooting in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
He remains in hospital and a BBC spokesman said last night: "He continues to improve, but he remains seriously ill."
Mr Johnson, a 49-year-old Apache helicopter engineer, was murdered on Friday after demands to release al Qaida prisoners were ignored by the Saudi authorities.
Three still images of his headless body were shown on a website. In two, his head is placed on the small of his back and in another it is being held for the camera.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has condemned the beheading as an "act of barbarism".
Speaking to the Sunday Post newspaper, Mr Mitchell said he was shocked by his friend’s brutal execution.
He said: "When we lived in Riyadh we would take it in turns to visit each other’s place every Thursday for Thai suppers and barbecues."
"My wife, Noi, and Paul’s wife, Thanom, were from Thailand and we were all very close."
"When we heard he had been kidnapped we were devastated and prayed every night that he would be rescued."
"Noi and I are very upset and our hearts go out to Paul’s wife and all his family."
Mr Mitchell, originally from Glasgow but now living in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was one of seven Britons jailed in Saudi Arabia for their part in a bombing campaign linked to an underground turf war over bootleg booze.
He told the paper that Paul and Thanom were a great source of comfort to his wife while he was in prison and said the American would have done anything for him.
Mr Mitchell and William Sampson, from Glasgow, had faced public beheading in “chop chop square” after being convicted of being the brains behind the bomb attacks.
They were accused of planting a car bomb that killed Briton Christopher Rodway, 47, and injured his wife, Jane, on November 17, 2000.
Four other Britons, James Cottle from Manchester, Peter Brandon from Cardiff, Les Walker from the Wirral, and James Lee, were each serving 12- year sentences after they later admitted their roles in the campaign.
The seventh Briton, Glenn Ballard, had been detained for 10 months but not charged.
Their three-year nightmare came to an end last August when they were released from the notorious Al Haier jail after an application for clemency was granted by King Fahd.
The men’s families had always insisted that the charges were trumped up and that the bombings in late 2000 were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists targeting Westerners.