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Family begs for life of Japanese hostage in Iraq
Updated: 2004-10-29 11:08

The family of a Japanese man being held hostage in Iraq begged for his life on Friday after the expiry of a deadline set by his captors, who have threatened to behead him unless Japan withdrew its troops.

Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's militant group said in an Internet video early on Wednesday Japanese time that it would behead 24-year-old Shosei Koda within 48 hours if the government did not meet its demand. Japan has said its troops will stay put.

It was not clear exactly when the deadline expired, but media quoted Japanese officials as saying they believed it passed at 2 a.m. Tokyo time on Friday (1 p.m. EDT on Thursday).

Exhausted but composed members of Koda's family told a news conference he had no political agenda nor a desire to make money.

"He is just a warm-hearted person who wanted to see what he could do for peace and help the people of Iraq," his brother Maki said, sometimes not being able to hold back tears.

"So I beg of you, please return my brother safely."

Cabinet ministers met to discuss the hostage crisis but said there was little new information about Koda, who government officials said had taken a bus to Baghdad from Amman last week.

"We don't have definite information on his safety," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters after the meeting.

"We'll do our utmost to seek his release."

Japanese officials also said they had not identified the hostage-takers or made contact with them.

Japan has around 550 non-combat troops in Samawa, 168 miles south of Baghdad, for humanitarian and reconstruction work.

Japan has sought help from about 25 countries, including the United States, Britain and Iraq, as well as other nations in the Middle East, and has sent a special envoy to Jordan to gather information.

"We will continue to seek the help of other nations and gather as much information as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters.

The hostage crisis may put Koizumi, a staunch supporter of President Bush, in a tight spot over his decision to send troops to Iraq despite strong public opposition.

But with many Japanese blaming Koda for putting himself at risk, political fallout might be limited, analysts said.

With little cash and no hotel booking, the long-haired Koda did not seem well prepared for a trip to a country where more than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped this year and about one-third of them killed.

The Asahi Shimbun daily said on Friday that Koda had tried to return to Amman late last week, but gave up taking a taxi back as he only had $20 with him.

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