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Militants release video of japanese hostage { October 27 2004 }

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October 27, 2004
Militants Release Video of Japanese Hostage

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 27 - The country's most feared militant group released a video today showing a frightened young Japanese civilian saying he would be beheaded if Japan did not withdraw its troops from Iraq.

The captors said they will give the Japanese government 48 hours to comply.

The kidnapping by the group led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi returned the issue of Japan's troop deployment to the forefront in that country, at a time when the Japanese government is sensitive about popular criticism of its decision to send soldiers to Iraq.

About 550 members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are stationed in the relatively calm southern city of Samawa, in the Shiite Arab heartland. The Japanese government says the troops are here on a strictly humanitarian mission, charged with rebuilding schools and helping improve sewage drainage and water supplies. Though small, the Japanese deployment holds strong diplomatic significance for the Japanese government, which is pushing to transform its Self-Defense Forces into a real military and has lobbied for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The young hostage, identified by the Japanese government as 24-year-old Shosei Koda, is shown in the video standing in front of the black banner of Mr. Zarqawi's group, which recently changed its name from One God and Jihad to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Mr. Koda is wearing a white T-shirt and has shoulder-length hair.

At one point, the video cuts to Mr. Koda kneeling before three men in black masks and clothing holding AK-47's.

"They asked me why Japanese government broke the law and sent troops to Iraq," Mr. Koda said in halting English. "They want Japanese government and Koizumi prime minister, they want to withdraw the Japanese troops from Iraq or cut my head."

Mr. Koda then repeats roughly the same message in Japanese.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he would not meet the demands. "I cannot allow terrorism and cannot bow to terrorism," he said in Japan.

In southern Iraq, nearly 800 British troops departed from a base in the city of Basra to take up temporary policing duties in central Iraq, near the town of Hilla, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Last week, the British government agreed to redeploy those soldiers to one of Iraq's most dangerous areas to allow American troops to prepare for a planned invasion of the insurgent stronghold of Falluja. The move is extremely unpopular in Great Britain, where most people oppose embattled Prime Minister Tony Blair's support of the American-led occupation.

The troops are from the storied Scottish Black Watch Regiment, one of the best trained and equipped units among the British forces.

The American military said that one soldier was killed and a second injured in a motorcycle bomb attack this morning on a convoy by Sindiaya, north of Baghdad. At least 1,102 American troops have died in the war.

The military put out a statement saying that the weapons buyback program in the volatile Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City had ended with "mixed success." The First Cavalry Division and interim Iraqi government started the program to try to disarm the militia of firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr. American and Iraqi officials said last week they were surprised at the amount of heavy weapons being sold, but expressed concern that the militia was not digging up the large number of homemade bombs it had planted in the streets.

In Japan, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura gave a statement on television in which he asked the insurgents to release Mr. Koda immediately.

"The Japanese people are shocked at this action," he said. "He's a civilian and has no connection to the government or the military forces."

In April, during an incendiary two-front uprising in Iraq, insurgents in the western Sunni-dominated region seized two Japanese aid workers and one Japanese photographer as they were entering from Jordan. The guerrillas released a video of the three hostages, their hands bound and a sword being put up against their throats. The crisis inflamed antiwar advocates in Japan, where the troop deployment is unpopular, and forced the government to defend its presence here in Iraq.

Those hostages were eventually released with the mediation of a group of powerful Sunni clerics and returned to Japan, where they were roundly criticized for stirring up so much national anxiety.

Mr. Zarqawi's group was the first to start the campaign of televised beheadings, which has struck fear into foreigners in this country and helped cripple reconstruction efforts by driving expatriates into the confines of fortified homes and hotels.

One God and Jihad first claimed responsibility for the beheading last May of Nicholas Berg, an American businessman, and the decapitation in late June of Kim Sun Il, a South Korean translator. More recently, it posted Internet videos showing the separate beheadings of two American engineers, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, and a Briton, Kenneth Bigley. Those men were kidnapped from their home in a brazen daylight raid in central Baghdad.

In the latest video, one of the black-clad insurgents recounts some of the group's grisly history.

"We give the Japanese government 48 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq," the man says, reading a statement. "Otherwise, his fate will be the same as that of his predecessors, Berg and Bigley and other infidels."

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped since last April, most by bandits who sell them to jihadist groups or back to the captives' companies or countries. The most prominent hostage, Margaret Hassan, the British-Iraqi director of CARE International, an aid group, was taken earlier this month and has not been released. Her captors released a video last week in which she pleaded with the British people and Mr. Blair to withdraw troops from Iraq to save her life.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi politician, Mithal al-Alusi, announced the formation of a party called the Democratic Iraqi National Party to contest the elections scheduled for January. Mr. Alusi was a former official of the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi, and an ex-director of an independent commission to weed out members of the former ruling Baath Party from the government. Earlier this month an Iraqi court charged him with attending an antiterrorism conference in Israel and suggesting that Iraq should open talks with Israel.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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