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Government officials Monday defended the activities performed by the Self-Defense Forces in Iraq, saying the recent execution of a Japanese hostage there was the work of terrorists and was not triggered by local Iraqi people’s anger toward the troops.

“We know the (Iraqi) government and other parties have understood Japan’s policy and support for reconstruction efforts,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.

Asked if the troop presence has heightened the possibility of terrorist attacks against Japanese nationals in Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters: “I don’t think so. Terrorists have remorselessly murdered innocent citizens around the world, even before the Iraq war.”

The decapitated body of Shosei Koda, found in Baghdad on Saturday, was reportedly wrapped in a U.S. flag. Japan has supported the U.S.-led war on Iraq and sent its troops there as part of the reconstruction process of the war-torn country.

The body was found four days after gunmen led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted a video message on a Web site threatening to kill Koda unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq within 48 hours.

About 600 Ground Self-Defense Force troops are engaged in a humanitarian aid and reconstruction mission in the southern city of Samawah.

Tanigawa in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY (Kyodo) Shuzen Tanigawa, senior vice foreign minister, arrived in Kuwait on Sunday night to accompany the body of slain hostage Shosei Koda back to Japan.

Tanigawa headed the government’s task force in Jordan that handled the hostage crisis.

Koda’s body is expected to be transferred from Baghdad to a U.S. military base in Kuwait on Monday night on a U.S. military aircraft. It will leave for Japan on Tuesday evening at the earliest.

The government confirmed Sunday that a decapitated body of an Asian man found in central Baghdad was Koda’s. The 24-year-old civilian had been taken hostage by a group of gunmen in Iraq.

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