BAGHDAD – A body believed to be that of one of two freelance Japanese journalists reportedly killed Thursday in Iraq was found about 10 km south of the attack site, local police sources said Saturday.
The Foreign Ministry said there is a possibility the victim is Kotaro Ogawa, 33, who was reportedly attacked by assailants in a car together with his uncle, Shinsuke Hashida, 61.
The incident, involving the two journalists, a driver and an interpreter, took place in Mahmudiyah, about 30 km south of Baghdad.
Iraqi police sources said the body was found in Yusufiyah with a gunshot wound to the head.
According to the Iraqi driver as well as witnesses in Mahmudiyah, Ogawa managed to escape from the vehicle after the attack, but he went missing immediately after a vehicle carrying a group of assailants returned to the scene by making a U-turn.
The 26-year-old driver, who escaped before the car exploded but sustained injuries, told Kyodo News earlier he saw Ogawa escaping from the car after the attack but was unsure what happened afterward.
“After the shooting stopped, I returned to the scene but couldn’t find the Japanese outside the car anymore,” he said.
It is possible Ogawa was shot to death after he was snatched from the scene by the group, who then dumped the body, according to the sources.
The driver said Hashida suffered numerous gunshot wounds and died in the car, adding the attackers called him a “puppet of the United States” when he got out of the car to escape.
After the shooting, the car crashed into a tree and was completely burned out, leaving only a charred frame.
The Japanese government initially believed that two bodies taken to a hospital near the attack site belonged to the two reporters.
According to the police sources, the third body found in Yusufiyah was not as badly damaged as the two kept at the hospital in Mahmudiyah.
Those two are believed to be Hashida and an Iraqi interpreter, but the Japanese government has not identified them due to a lack of hard evidence.
Government sources said the two bodies were so badly damaged that immediate identification would be difficult.
Meanwhile, five family members of the two journalists left Japan on Saturday for Kuwait via Bangkok to identify the bodies.
The five are Hashida’s 50-year-old wife, Yukiko, his eldest son, Daisuke, 22, and his younger sister, Yoko, 57, who is also Ogawa’s mother, and two others.
Before departing from Narita, Yukiko Hashida told reporters, “I will talk about it after coming back.”
They are expected to arrive in Kuwait early Sunday Japan time.
The government has asked the U.S. military in Iraq to airlift the bodies to Kuwait for identification purposes.
Officials from the Foreign Ministry and a specialist in forensic medicine accompanied the family members to confirm the identities of the deceased.
If their deaths are confirmed, the pair will be the third and fourth Japanese to be killed in Iraq amid the turmoil that continues to engulf the country following the U.S.-led war.