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.”
Japan said Sunday it had received “severe information” about Japanese nationals taken hostage at a gas plant in Algeria, which included unconfirmed details of at least one death.
“I have received severe information from the Algerian government about the safety of Japanese people,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, without elaborating further, after holding talks over the phone with the Algerian prime minister.
Abe said his government would make “its utmost effort” to confirm the information.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga separately told a news conference that the information from Algeria included “death and those who are still unaccounted for”.
Suga declined to confirm if, according to Algeria, more than one person was killed, while saying the Japanese government has yet to officially confirm the casualty information.
Amid conflicting reports Friday about casualties among foreigners who were taken hostage at a natural gas complex in Algeria, the government and JGC Corp. confirmed the safety of seven Japanese workers but said 10 others were still missing.
A senior official said one of the Japanese workers from the Yokohama-based plant-engineering firm who were confirmed safe sustained some wounds, but they were not serious.
At first three JGC workers were confirmed safe. Then on Friday evening, a company spokesman told reporters the JGC office in Algiers had confirmed that four more were safe.
JGC also said it has received unconfirmed information that the total number of hostages is 78, including the 17 Japanese.
Several Japanese employees of Yokohama-based engineering company JCG Corp. were among dozens of foreign workers taken hostage by heavily armed Islamic militants at a natural gas complex in Algeria on Wednesday, the government confirmed.
Algerian troops surrounded the Islamists holding the hostages Thursday after a deadly attack the gunmen said was in reprisal for Algerias cooperation in French operations in Mali.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was deeply concerned and will “never tolerate” the hostage-taking by the military group.
Suga declined comment on the militants possible motives, saying the government had yet to determine a full picture of the incident, though it has obtained information from various sources.