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.