Bunshiro Naito lost his life at the age of 44, one of 10 Japanese killed in the 2013 hostage crisis in Algeria.
The fact that his company promised not to release his name to the public left his mother unsettled.
During the four-day standoff with Islamist militants in the North African country, Sayoko Naito said the information she received from JGC Corp., the Japanese engineering firm that dispatched the workers including her son, was sketchy at best.
She said a JGC official gave her conflicting messages, such as, “Bunshiro is safe,” “No one knows who’s been taken hostage,” and “The situation has become very severe.”
“I understand the frustration of JGC, but I felt like I was being given the runaround,” Naito, 76, said in a recent interview.
In January 2013, Islamist militants attacked a gas plant in In Amenas, taking workers from many countries hostage. Algerian forces ended the standoff with a military operation in which 40 captives, including 10 Japanese, died. Seven other JGC employees survived.
During the crisis, a reporter visited Naito’s home after receiving information that “Mr. Naito from Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture is among those who fell victim to the crisis,” she said.
“Since I was starved for information, even without thinking I pleaded, ‘Please tell me everything you know.’ It was shortly afterward that Bunshiro’s death was confirmed.”
Naito said JGC told her at the time to rest assured it would not release her son’s name to the media. “I felt uncomfortable being told that and argued back, ‘What are you trying to conceal about my son?'”
Although the Japanese government also initially withheld the victims’ names, a throng of reporters gathered in front of her home.
“Some of my friends rushed to my home out of concern for me but did not understand why I talked with reporters asking for comments several times.
“My son had made every day count for 44 years as Bunshiro Naito. I felt an aversion to reports calling him ‘Mr. A’ or ‘a man in his 40s from Toyohashi.’
“Speaking in front of reporters was a huge burden. But the feeling that Bunshiro’s life might be covered up and reduced to nothing if I didn’t talk about him prevailed,” she said.
On the other hand, Sayoko Naito’s younger son, who runs a local business, was reluctant to accept interviews because he hated having to explain the news articles to his customers, she said.
“My (other) son and friends have a stereotypical image of the media as being ‘irresponsible’ — images such as reporters suddenly flocking to (relatives’) homes or writing this and that about whatever they desire, without assuming responsibility for any mistakes. This might be the common mindset of people,” Naito said.
She recalled the father of an animator who was killed in the Kyoto Animation Co. arson attack in July telling a news conference not to forget his son.
“I feel I can really understand the pain he feels. But I think each person must face the death of a child in their own way. A … family’s wish to be left alone should also not be denied.”
JGC, based in Yokohama, declined to identify the victims of the Algeria crisis in consideration of the next of kin. The Japanese government followed suit at first, but released the names after all the bodies had been repatriated.