The government was seized with anxiety for a short period Friday when it was reported that the body of an Asian was found in a northern Iraqi city only hours after the passing of a 48-hour deadline for the life of a Japanese traveler being held hostage by militants.
Later in the day, however, Iraqi officials said that the body found in the city of Tikrit, some 300 km north of Baghdad, was not that of 24-year-old Shosei Koda, who is being held hostage by a group linked to al-Qaeda.
Spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman of Iraq’s Interior Ministry was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that residents found a man’s body in the Tikrit area on Thursday that turned out to be that of an Iraqi.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura confirmed this in Tokyo, telling reporters that he had received information from Iraqi government sources that “the possibility was slim” that the body was Koda’s.
Abdul-Rahman was also quoted as saying he thought the death was the result of a criminal act, but had no further details.
Japanese officials were visibly tense after hearing the German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur had reported that a hospital official in Tikrit on Thursday had found the body of a foreigner, possibly an Asian, shot in the head and chest.
The news came after the deadline for Koda’s beheading passed early Friday. A video was released early Wednesday in which his captors gave Tokyo 48 hours to pull its Self-Defense Forces out of Iraq or he would be beheaded.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promptly rejected the demand.
Government officials held emergency meetings at both the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and the Foreign Ministry, scrambling to find out if the media report could be linked to the hostage crisis.
Japanese officials have said that they have had no luck in getting in touch with the militants who are holding Koda.
Two Japanese diplomats were killed in Tikrit, in Iraq’s volatile Sunni triangle, in a drive-by ambush last November.
Koda’s mother, Setsuko, and older brother, Maki, reiterated their appeal for the abductors to release Koda during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo.
“My younger brother has no political intentions, no relationship with the Self-Defense Forces and no desire to make a profit,” 26-year-old Maki said.
“I believe he just wanted to see what he could do to help the people of Iraq . . . so I beg you to please return him safely.”
After Friday’s false alarm, the government began bracing for what could be a prolonged effort to obtain Koda’s release.
The government continued to seek information both in Tokyo and Amman, where it has set up a local headquarters to deal with the crisis.
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