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Japan won't bow to hostage threat

From CNN Correspondent Atika Shubert

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The decision to send troops to Iraq drew protests in Japan.
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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said troops will remain in Iraq, despite threats from an Iraqi insurgent group to behead a Japanese man it has taken hostage.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the prime minister met with his Cabinet early Wednesday and ordered an emergency task force to bring the hostage home safely.

Hosoda identified the hostage as Shosei Koda, a 24-year-old resident of Japan's Fukuoka region. Government officials did not know why Koda was in Iraq, he said.

Koizumi also told Cabinet ministers that the 550-contingent force would remain in Iraq where they have been participating in humanitarian missions, Hosada said.

Earlier, an Islamic Web site used by the group led by wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi showed video of what it claimed was a member of Japan's forces in their custody.

The group threatened to behead the man if the Japanese government did not withdraw its troops from Iraq within 48 hours.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Koda was en route to Baghdad from Amman, Jordan, when reported missing.

Machimura said all Japanese military personnel, staffers of the embassy in Baghdad and Japanese journalists in Iraq have been accounted for.

The foreign minister said he will be sending an official to Jordan to set up a team to investigate further.

In the video, Koda is seen kneeling in front of three masked militants dressed all in black and urging for Koizumi to help him.

The militant in the middle reads a statement from the group, while the other two armed men stand at his side.

"We grant the Japanese government 48 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq or this infidel will be beheaded," the statement says.

At one point, the hostage looks down and one of the militants grabs him by his hair and forces him to look up at the camera.

The group that issued the statement was al Qaeda of Jihad, the new name for al-Zarqawi's group following a recent pledge to Osama bin Laden.

His group had previously been known as the Unification and Jihad group.

The group issued Web site warnings in recent months to Japan and countries in the Arab and Muslim world that their people would be at risk if they were to come to Iraq.

Koizumi has been one of the strongest backers of the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, with his country contributing about $500 million in aid to Iraq and also hosting a donor's conference to try to garner more financial support for reconstruction.

However, that position has put him at odds with much of his country, where a majority of Japanese people polled opposed his decision to send troops to Iraq.

Japan's constitution does not allow troops to take part in combat, and so the troops have been working in southern Iraq on humanitarian missions.


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