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Body resembling Japanese hostage found
Updated: 2004-10-30 08:48

A body resembling a Japanese hostage has been found in Iraq and is being shipped to Qatar for identification, Japanese officials said on Saturday.

This undated photo shows Shosei Koda, a 24-year-old man from Fukuoka, southern Japan, being held hostage in Iraq. [Reuters]
"The U.S. military judged that there is a possibility the body may be (that of Shosei Koda)," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima told a news conference.

Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's militant group said in an Internet video on Wednesday it would behead 24-year-old Koda within 48 hours if Japan did withdraw its troops from Iraq.

The hostage incident has posed a challenge to Koizumi, who is a close ally of President Bush and sent troops to Iraq despite strong public opposition.

But many Japanese have blamed Koda for putting himself at risk by going to Iraq and analysts said the political fallout if he has been killed might be limited.

Takashima said Japan had been informed the body was found between Baghdad and the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit by the U.S. military.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said it had no information on reports that the body may be that of Koda.


It was not clear exactly when the Zarqawi group's 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).

Koda, who had apparently taken a bus to Baghdad from Amman last week, had little cash and no hotel booking, Japanese media reports said.

Members of Koda's family have begged for the life of a young man who they said had no ties to Japan's military, no political agenda and was not in search of personal gain.

"He is just a warm-hearted person who wanted to see what he could do for peace and help the people of Iraq," Koda's brother Maki told a news conference.

Zarqawi's Al Qaeda Organization of Holy War in Iraq said Koda had worked with U.S. forces in Iraq.

Tokyo has sought help over Koda from about 25 countries, including the United States, Britain and nations in the Middle East, and has sent a special envoy to Jordan.

Militants in Iraq have kidnapped dozens of foreigners since April in a campaign to press U.S.-led forces and foreign workers to leave the country.

Japan has about 550 troops at Samawa, some 168 miles south of Baghdad, for humanitarian and reconstruction work.

Four Japanese, two diplomats and two journalists, have been killed in Iraq since the start of the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein in March 2003.

Five Japanese civilians, including journalists and an aid worker, were kidnapped in Iraq in April. Militants threatened to kill three of them unless Japan pulled out its troops.

All the hostages were released unharmed but drew heavy criticism for going to Iraq despite warnings about the danger.

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