Although many Arabs said they were horrified by the circumstances of Johnson's death and condemned such actions carried out in the name of Islam, they predicted the recurrence of such incidents as long Israel continues its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and US- led forces continue to occupy Iraq.

With almost daily reports of ferocious Israeli invasions, Palestinians being crushed to death as their homes were demolished over their heads and Iraq increasingly spiralling out of control, it is not surprising that the Arab street is frustrated with the United States.

Adding insult to injury, waning international interest in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has diminished further since US-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003.

It is these grievances that Johnson's captors claimed they were addressing:

"This act is to heal the hearts of believers in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula," Johnson's captors said in a statement posted on the internet late on Friday.

Foreign presence

Dr Bahaa Ghalayani, an obstetrician/gynaecologist at Aawda Hospital in the occupied Gaza Strip, said Johnson's killing was "horrible and unacceptable" and that "this person had nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict".

"Since Americans were sent to Iraq, it has become a bloodbath. Please ask Europeans
and Americans what
they expected the
reaction to be"

Dr Bahaa Ghalayani,
Palestinian physician from
Gaza City

But Ghalayani added: "Events in this region [Middle East] are crazy. We have foreign troops everywhere."

"What are they doing in Iraq? Why are they depriving locals of their most basic rights?"

Ghalayani, who faces the daily struggles of occupation, said foreign troops are killing Palestinians and Iraqis in cold blood.

"Since Americans were sent to Iraq, it has become a bloodbath," he said. "Please ask the Europeans and Americans what they expected the reaction to be."

"These [violent attacks] are only to be expected in such circumstances."

Johnson, however, had nothing to do with his government's foreign policy, said the physician. Ghalayani expressed frustration at what he said was increasing Western interference in the Middle East's internal political affairs.

"We can rule our own countries," he said.

"I wouldn't say those who killed Johnson are mad. The ones who are mad are the Americans and Europeans who've come to this region and are interfering in everything."

Backlash feared

Some Arabs are more worried, however, about the incident's possible political repercussions.

Umm Khalid Ashur, a housewife living in the occupied Gaza Strip town of Tal al-Hawa, said: "Our cause is between us and Israelis within our nation. Johnson wasn't fighting us. Our struggle should be face to face with Israelis."

More Arab funerals fuel greater
anger in the region

She expressed concern that the international community might adopt a hostile stand towards the Palestinians if their struggle started to spread.

Iraqi television news director Salam al-Amir concurred, saying there would probably be a backlash in occupied Iraq where foreign occupation troops would become harsher in dealing with civilians.

"Innocent people are being sacrificed for the sake of politics," he said.

"What will happen next? How are we going to benefit from this [beheading]?"

Who benefits?

Jordanian journalist Nur al-Din Shahadi said Washington will seize the latest incident to justify any future violence it will inflict in the Middle East under the guise of a war on terror.

"The United States is the only one to benefit from this incident [beheading]," he said.

Shahadi believes Washington will use Johnson's slaying to justify any future violence it inflicts on the region under the guise of "war on terror".

Sanna Qandil, a Palestinian-Jordanian secretary working in Amman, said the Saudi incident is not out of the ordinary when one takes into account violence across the Arab world.

"Let Americans know what it feels like to be a Palestinian, to lose a mother, child or father," she said.

Fellow Jordanian Kawkab Hanafna is just as forthright but in condemning Johnson's beheading. Such killings are being carried out under the banner of Islam, she noted, but stressed that such actions are prohibited in the religion.