After Algeria crisis, Japan steps up security in region

Mali mission moved to Paris; tourists issued regionwide alert

JIJI, Kyodo

The government is moving to strengthen the security of Japanese citizens in northwestern Africa in the wake of last week’s deadly hostage crisis in Algeria.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it will temporarily shut down the Japanese Embassy in Bamako, Mali’s capital, due to the worsened local security situation amid an ongoing conflict between government troops and Islamic militants. To ensure safety, embassy personnel will relocate to the Japanese Embassy in Paris and continue their work to protect Japanese nationals in the western African country.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Embassy in Tunisia is considering stepping up security measures for Japanese nationals, according to a source, because the Algerian crisis is likely to affect surrounding countries.

The number of inquiries from Japanese tourists on the security situation in Tunisia has been increasing since the Algerian hostage incident, according to the source. Tokyo has also advised Japanese citizens in Mauritania to evacuate that country’s border areas with Algeria.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency’s office in Morocco has also directed about 100 staff members and volunteers to stay away from French facilities. There are concerns that locations in northwestern Africa with links to France could become targets of terrorist attacks as the country is the former colonial ruler of the region.

Still, the JICA office has no plans to take special measures, including withdrawing its staff from Morocco, office chief Eihiko Obata said.

The Japanese Embassy in Morocco has seen a surge in the number of inquiries on the local security situation since the hostage crisis began, an embassy official said. Around 3,000 Japanese tourists visit Morocco annually.

Following the hostage crisis, which saw conflicting information concerning the status of the captives, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday indicated Tokyo will consider increasing the number of defense attaches at Japanese embassies overseas to strengthen the country’s ability to gather information.

“I am aware of the need. We need to think about the most effective (crisis-response) measures,” Suga said.

One government official said the Algerian crisis showed “how important intelligence was, given the fact that there were no means to directly confirm” the condition or fate of the hostages.

Algerian security forces started a military operation on Jan. 17 to end the crisis without notifying Japan, the United States, Britain and other nations whose citizens were among the captives in advance. Tokyo obtained information about the deaths of some Japanese nationals Sunday, after the operation had ended.