Nine slain hostages being flown home; 10th victim ID’d

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The final missing Japanese worker in the hostage crisis at an Algerian natural gas complex was confirmed dead Thursday from the remains of various victims taken to Algiers, bringing the total number of Japanese killed to 10 and dashing any hope of further survivors.

The 10th body identified was heavily damaged, according to a government source. Like the other nine, the man was an employee of Yokohama-based JGC Corp. It has yet to be determined how many of the hostages were slain by their captors or were killed when Algerian forces stormed the complex to retake the facility.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday night that a team of Japanese officials in the Algerian capital identified the 10th Japanese victim from among dozens of bodies of unknown nationalities brought from the gas complex in the Sahara desert.

Suga received a call confirming the news from Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi, who was in Algiers, at around 7:12 p.m. Thursday.

Kiuchi, who is leading the Japanese investigation team, told Suga he found the last of the 17 JGC Japanese workers who were at the complex when Islamic militants attacked the facility last week. Seven Japanese JGC workers survived the ordeal and are heading home.

“We feel deep sorrow, as many precious human lives were lost,” Suga told reporters. “We firmly denounce these despicable acts of terrorism.”

Suga declined comment on the cause of death or conditions of the last corpse identified, saying Tokyo has not obtained detailed information yet.

Earlier in the day, a government aircraft left Algiers for Tokyo carrying the bodies of nine Japanese workers confirmed killed in the Algerian crisis, including two who were newly identified late Wednesday. The seven Japanese JGC workers who survived were returning to Japan aboard the government plane.

Suga had called a hastily arranged news conference late Wednesday to announce that two more Japanese victims had been identified in Algiers.

On Thursday, he said the government will disclose Friday the names of the 10 dead after their families have officially identified the bodies.

He said the government decided to disclose the names on its own responsibility, but it has gained the “understanding” of JGC.

“The families want to see and confirm (the bodies) with their own eyes in a quiet environment,” Suga said.

The government has been refusing to disclose the names of the dead, citing the feelings of their families and the wishes of JGC, which has cooperated closely with the government since the four-day hostage crisis broke out Jan. 16 at the Ain Amenas natural gas complex in the Sahara desert.

Media outlets have demanded that the government release basic information on the incident, including the names of the victims, as the crisis has been huge news in Japan and has deep significance to companies that station workers in developing countries.

Senior officials had countered that families feared their privacy would be violated, as many reporters have already identified some of the victims and rushed to their homes.

“We have discussed this a great deal. Public opinion is divided as well,” a senior official said Wednesday.

The Mainichi Shimbun has reported that two Japanese may have been killed in the airstrikes launched by the Algerian military to retake control of the gas complex, and not at the hands the Islamic militants who took the hostages.

The government has declined comment on the report and has not disclosed any findings by a police team dispatched to Algeria to investigate the crisis.