Japanese hostages 'to be freed in 24 hours'
THREE young Japanese whose videotaped mock execution by Iraqi rebels shocked the world will be released within 24 hours, an Arabic news channel reported last night.
According to Al-Jazeera, the kidnappers, identifying themselves as the "Mujahedeen Squadron", said they made the decision after mediation by the Islamic Clerics Committee - an Iraqi Sunni Muslim organisation.
In a statement, the kidnappers urged the Japanese public to press their government to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the station said.
Footage delivered to Al-Jazeera, as well as Associated Press Television News on Thursday, showed the three Japanese - two aid workers and a journalist - blindfolded and threatened by masked men with guns and knives.
The kidnappers threatened in a statement delivered with the footage that the hostages would be burned alive if Japan’s troops were not pulled from Iraq within three days
In another development yesterday, militants threatened to kill and mutilate a US civilian captured during the ambush of a convoy west of Baghdad.
In a videotape given to the Al-Jazeera television network, Thomas Hamill was shown in front of an Iraqi flag. A spokesman off camera demanded that US troops end their siege of the city of Fallujah, where four American civilians were recently killed and mutilated.
"Our only demand is to remove the siege from the city of mosques," a spokesman said in a tape given to Al-Jazeera. "If you don’t respond within 12 hours... he will be treated worse than those who were killed and burned in Fallujah."
Hamill was captured by gunmen who rocketed a fuel convoy on the road between Baghdad and Fallujah on Friday. He identified himself to a reporter for Australian television seconds before being whisked away in a car by gunmen.
Al-Jazeera said Hamill, who looked to be in good condition, said he was the only survivor of an ambush on his convoy.
As many as 45 foreigners have been reported missing or seized as hostages in the current wave of abductions in Iraq, which are designed to deter foreigners from working in Iraq as well as sapping public support in their home countries.
Amid widespread confusion and uncorroborated reports from around Iraq, one group appeared on an Arab television station claiming it was holding 30 foreign hostages and threatened to start killing them by decapitation if US forces did not lift their blockade of Fallujah.
But the group, calling itself the Brigades of the Hero Martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, did not produce any of the hostages on the screen. "We have Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and Korean hostages," a masked gunman said.
Meanwhile, two German security officials were reported missing while travelling from Jordan to Baghdad. It is thought the two were agents with GSG-9, a counter-terrorism unit trained for freeing hostages and other commando missions.
Japan was stunned on Thursday when an unknown group released a video showing the hostages, blindfolded and with a gun to their heads.
Meanwhile, a Japanese foreign ministry official said the ministry was checking the report about the 30 hostages but could not comment whether any Japanese, apart from the three hostages, had gone missing in Iraq.
Some 1,000 protesters demanding troops come home gathered near Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s office hours before US Vice President Dick Cheney arrived to start a three-nation Asian tour.
"Our will is being tested in Iraq as we have seen in the heavy fighting this week," Cheney said en route to Tokyo. "It is absolutely essential that we finish the task at hand."
Koizumi, facing his toughest test, has vowed not to pull out the troops, but some analysts say mishandling the crisis could bring down his government.
Relatives of the hostages said they were worried by the apparent lack of progress and shortage of information.
"I assume that there have been advances, but without the release of information we really don’t know what’s going on," said Takashi Imai, father of hostage Noriaki Imai, an 18-year-old who graduated from high school just last month.
The three are Imai, who had planned to look into the effects of depleted uranium weapons, female aid worker Nahoko Takato, 34, and freelance reporter Soichiro Koriyama, 32.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South