Japan defies Iraq murder threat


“There is no reason to withdraw,” the Government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda reiterated at a news conference, saying the three Japanese held in Iraq had gone to the war-ravaged country to help people there.

Mr Fukuda said the Government was striving to get precise information on the hostage-taking, while admitting Tokyo had not been able to contact the kidnappers yet.

Earlier Friday the Government launched a special task force headed by Mr Fukuda and including the foreign and justice ministers, the head of the Defence Agency and the head of the National Police Agency to handle the hostage crisis.

The threat from the insurgents to burn the Japanese citizens alive was the first such ultimatum involving foreign civilians taken hostage in Iraq, suggesting a new tactic by militants to pressure governments allied with Washington.

The kidnappings came amid escalating violence in Iraq. Earlier this week, two South Korean aid workers were briefly detained by Shiite Muslim forces during a gunbattle with Italian peacekeepers. They were released unharmed.