• Kyodo

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Two Japanese civilian captives freed Saturday by gunmen after being kidnapped last week apologized Sunday for causing trouble and said they were snatched while trying to get to Fallujah, not to a downed U.S. chopper.

Freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda and human rights activist Nobutaka Watanabe made the apology at a news conference in Amman.

“I failed to get enough information about the area, and I am sorry,” Yasuda told reporters.

While apologetic for having caused trouble, Yasuda and Watanabe said they were not in a position to comment on views expressed in Japan that they bear responsibility for what happened, with Japan having warned its citizens to steer clear of Iraq.

The two men added that their abductors apparently were elements of the Mujahideen Brigades and numbered about 50 people. They also said they were taken to four different locations before their release.

They said their captors view the Japanese troops deployed to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah as enemies and want them to leave Iraq. The troops are there performing humanitarian and reconstruction work.

The pair said their captors also threatened to kill them if they determined that they were working with the United States. Yasuda and Watanabe said their lives were spared because they were not armed.

The two men said at the news conference that they were kidnapped when they tried to go near Fallujah in central Iraq, where fierce fighting has been going on. They said their objective was not to cover the downing of a U.S. military helicopter.

The two men also said their abductors asked whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would accept responsibility if the pair were killed. They said they replied no.

Yasuda and Watanabe also told reporters that they believe they were abducted because their kidnappers suspected they were spies.

The two left Amman on Monday and were to arrive in Japan on Tuesday.

Shortly after their release, Yasuda and Watanabe had reportedly said they wanted to remain in Iraq, but apparently agreed to go back to Japan.

The two, who shared an apartment in Baghdad, were taken to a mosque in the city by an Iraqi after they were released unharmed at another location. They were later taken to the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad.

The Islamic Clerics Association received a call Friday evening from a man who did not identify himself saying the two would be freed the following day.

Appearing on a program aired Saturday by the Qatar-based Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera, Tsukasa Uemura, acting Japanese ambassador to Iraq, thanked the Islamic Clerics Association for its help in securing the pair’s release, which came two days after the three other Japanese hostages were freed at a different mosque in Baghdad after being abducted April 7 near Fallujah.

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