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Japan: Hostage killed in Iraq

Body matching his description flown to Qatar for identification

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Junichiro Koizumi

(CNN) -- A Japanese hostage in Iraq has been killed after Tokyo refused to meet his abductors' demands to withdraw its troops from the region, a spokesman for the nation's foreign ministry said.

Shosei Koda, 24, was taken hostage Tuesday, and his captors threatened to behead him unless Japan agreed to withdraw its military from Iraq within 48 hours.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said a body matching the description of Koda was found by U.S. forces between Baghdad and Tikrit. He would not say whether the body had been beheaded.

Takashima said the body is being flown to a U.S. military base in Qatar, where Japanese government officials will try to verify its identity.

The U.S. military informed the Japanese Embassy of the discovery, and the government has been in touch with Koda's family.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had rejected any possibility that Tokyo would withdraw its 550-troop contingent from Iraq where they have been conducting humanitarian missions.

An Islamist Web site used by the group led by wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had shown video of Koda shortly after the abduction. Koda was seen kneeling in front of three masked militants dressed in black and calling for help from Koizumi.

At one point, Koda looked down, and one of the militants grabbed him by his hair to force him to look up at the camera.

"We grant the Japanese government 48 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq or this infidel will be beheaded," one of the militants said.

The group that issued the statement called itself the Qaeda of Jihad, a new name for al-Zarqawi's group following a recent pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden. His group had previously been known as Unification and Jihad. The network has carried out numerous abductions and has beheaded many of its captives.

Al-Zarqawi's group issued online warnings in recent months that citizens of Japan and other countries 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 playing host to 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 doesn't allow troops to take part in combat, so they have been working in southern Iraq on humanitarian missions.

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