Seven survivors and the bodies of nine Japanese slain in a hostage crisis in Algeria returned to Tokyo on a government plane Friday.
The 16 individuals worked for a Yokohama-based engineering company, JGC Corp. at a natural gas plant in the Sahara that was seized by al-Qaida-linked militants last week.
TV footage showed Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the airport tarmac placing flowers on caskets that had been unloaded from the airplane. He and other government and company officials bowed as the caskets were driven away.
Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi visited a local hospital near the Ain Amenas natural gas complex in Algeria on Monday to determine what happened to 10 Japanese feared killed during the four-day hostage crisis in the Sahara.
The unofficial death toll from the ordeal is 80 so far, including 32 of the Islamic militants who attacked the plant, but the Algerian government said the toll is expected to mount. The 80 include 25 slain hostages just found by Algerian troops.
Kiuchi arrived at Ain Amenas around 10 p.m. Sunday Japan time aboard a special plane arranged by an Algerian energy company. He then headed for the gas plant with Algerian energy minister Youcef Yousfi, according to officials in Tokyo.
The four-day hostage crisis in the Sahara reached a bloody conclusion on Saturday as the Algerian Army carried out a final assault on the gas field taken over by Islamist militants, killing most of the remaining kidnappers and raising the total of hostages killed to at least 23, Algerian officials said.
Although the government declared an end to the militants’ siege, the authorities believed that a handful of jihadists were most likely hiding somewhere in the sprawling complex and said that troops were hunting for them.
The details of the desert standoff and the final battle for the plant remained murky on Saturday night — as did information about which hostages died and how — with even the White House suggesting that it was unclear what had happened. In a brief statement released early Saturday night the president said his administration would “remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place.”