YOKOHAMA – Kanagawa Prefectural Police have obtained an arrest warrant for the mastermind of a deadly hostage-taking incident in Algeria in 2013 and will seek to place the al-Qaida-linked commander on the international wanted list.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, 43, is also wanted by Algeria, the United States and Australia, the police force said Tuesday.
An arrest warrant was issued Monday for Belmokhtar, alleging he was responsible for several Japanese, including employees of Yokohama-based engineering firm JGC Corp., and other people being taken hostage in Algeria in January 2013. It also alleges that he directed a third party to arrange negotiations with the Japanese Embassy, the police said.
The warrant is the first obtained by Japanese police for the arrest of an Islamist militant or international terrorist, they said.
Islamist militants took over a gas complex in eastern Algeria, resulting in the death of dozens of foreigners, including 10 of the 17 Japanese hostages.
The police have interviewed survivors and collected evidence, including footage posted on the Internet in which a person believed to be Belmokhtar speaks about the incident.
However, the Japanese warrant is unlikely to lead to the apprehension of Belmokhtar, who remains free in Algeria despite a domestic warrant there for his arrest, said Osamu Miyata, head of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan. Miyata said the move is more likely meant to discourage a similar crime targeting Japanese.
In March 2013, a spokesperson for the Chad military reportedly said on national television its soldiers operating in Mali had killed Belmokhtar. However, France, which at the time also had soldiers in Mali leading cleanup operations against militants there, could not confirm that Belmokhtar had been killed.