A five-day hostage crisis ended in tragedy Sunday as the government said a decapitated body found in Baghdad earlier in the day was that of Shosei Koda, a 24-year-old Japanese taken captive by a militant group in Iraq last week.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told a hastily arranged news conference at the ministry Sunday morning that the government made a positive identification after determining the body’s fingerprints and physical description matched those of Koda.
“This act of terror that snuffed out the life of an innocent civilian is extremely vicious, and I feel strong fury toward those who commit such acts,” Machimura said. “This is totally unforgivable, and Japan will continue to cooperate with the international community to fight terrorism.”
In a video shown Wednesday on the Web site of a militant group, Koda’s captors said they would behead him unless Japan withdrew the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq within 48 hours — a demand Tokyo immediately rejected.
“It’s regrettable,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later told reporters at his official residence in Tokyo. “I feel renewed anger at such barbaric and inhuman acts. I feel for his family and I want to express my heartfelt sympathy.”
He said the SDF would continue to remain in the southern city of Samawah to support the rebuilding of Iraq.
Koda is the fifth Japanese casualty in Iraq since U.S.-led forces invaded in March 2003. Two Japanese diplomats were killed in an ambush last November and two journalists were also killed by unidentified assailants in May.
Asked if Koda’s death will affect the decision on whether to extend the SDF mission in Iraq, scheduled to end Dec. 14, Koizumi said the government will “comprehensively consider the situation in Iraq before making a judgment. But I believe Japan has to provide its utmost support.”
According to Foreign Ministry officials, the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad received a call Saturday night local time from the Iraqi government that it was checking a body to see if its physical description matched that of Koda.
Kyodo News reported from Baghdad that the body was left discarded on a sidewalk near what is known as a stronghold of anti-American insurgent forces in central Baghdad, quoting local police.
The body, with hands tied behind its back, was clad in a T-shirt and jeans. It was wrapped in a U.S. flag when it was found on a sidewalk behind a hospital near Haifa Street at around 9 p.m. Saturday local time, or 3 a.m. Sunday Japan time. The victim’s severed head was also found at the site, according to the police.
The officer said the man appeared to have been killed shortly before the discovery of the body. A pool of blood at the site also suggested the body was abandoned shortly after the slaying.
The Japanese Embassy sent two local staffers to the morgue where the body was taken to bring back fingerprints and photos of the back of the head, Machimura said. Koda had a bald patch there.
The images were transmitted to Tokyo, where National Police Agency experts confirmed the fingerprints matched those of Koda, the foreign minister said.
Koda’s captors have remained silent since airing the video last week.
Upon hearing that Iraqi officials had found a body that might be Koda’s, government officials rushed early Sunday to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and the Foreign Ministry. But in an effort to avoid the mistake of the previous day, when they prematurely said they found a body that might be Koda’s, they were cautious with their remarks before the news was officially confirmed.
On Saturday, the government was thrown into confusion after the U.S. military in Iraq said it found a body north of Baghdad that partially matched Koda’s physical description.
But the information turned out to be inaccurate and the body, which was flown to Kuwait before Japanese authorities confirmed that it was not Koda’s, had different physical features than what Japan was initially told.
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