Iraqi militants asked three Japanese hostages to pretend they were scared while being videotaped earlier this month, police sources said Tuesday.

The video showing the three being threatened with knives and guns was broadcast on the Al-Jazeera TV news channel on April 8 as part of the kidnappers’ demand that Japan withdraw its Self-Defense Forces troops from Iraq.

Nahoko Takato, 34, an aid worker; Socihiro Koriyama, 32, freelance photojournalist; and 18-year-old Noriaki Imai, a recent high school graduate, were released in Baghdad on Thursday.

According to the sources, the trio told the Terrorism Response Team of the National Police Agency that the militants guaranteed their safety after learning they were civilians, and began giving them better meals.

The three were captured at a gas station west of Fallujah in central Iraq on April 7, and were taken to eight different locations before their release in Baghdad, the sources said.

The trio told the Terrorism Response Team that the militants seemed uncontrolled and looked like Sunni militiamen rather than Islamic radicals, the sources said.

Trio return to homes

The three Japanese civilians released Thursday after being held hostage for more than a week in Iraq returned to their hometowns from Tokyo with their families Tuesday.

Nahoko Takato, 34, a volunteer aid worker, and Noriaki Imai, 18, a recent high school graduate, returned to Hokkaido, and 32-year-old freelance photojournalist Soichiro Koriyama to Miyazaki Prefecture.

They had been staying at a hotel in Tokyo after returning from Iraq on Sunday via Dubai, where they underwent health checks.

Their lawyers said the three are hoping to hold a news conference together in Tokyo in the near future. The three did not say anything to a crowd of reporters as they left Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

The three could hardly sleep Monday night, associates said.

Takato was quoted as saying Tuesday morning, “I feel like going back (to my parents’ home) quickly, but I am also afraid of going home.”