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Japan Confirms Japanese Hostage in Iraq Beheaded


Japan's government on Sunday said it is now certain that a 24-year-old Japanese backpacker taken hostage in Iraq has been killed. Japanese officials say the identity of the body was confirmed through fingerprint matches.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told a Sunday morning news conference that he was certain that the body found is that of Shosei Koda. Mr. Machimura says the death will not dissuade Japan from decisively fighting terrorism in cooperation with the international community.

The decapitated body, wrapped in an American flag, was found by a police officer on a street in Baghdad.

There had been confusion since Friday about Mr. Koda's fate. The government had made previous announcements that a body found near Tikrit appeared to be that of the Japanese hostage. But after the corpse was flown to Kuwait, Japanese medical examiners said they were certain it was not Mr. Koda's body.

Mr. Koda's captors, in a videotaped message posted on a militant group's internet website Tuesday, said they would behead him unless Japan pulled its troops from Iraq within 48 hours. Japan has about 500 non-combat troops in Samawah, in southern Iraq.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi quickly rejected that demand, saying he would not give in to terrorists.

In the video released on the Internet, a banner was displayed of a militant group run by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ally of al-Qaida, who is said to be directing attacks in Iraq against U.S. forces and the Iraqi interim government.

Mr. Koda is the fifth Japanese to die in Iraq following the start of the U.S.-led war in March of last year. But he is the first to have been taken hostage and then executed.

Mr. Koda's family on Friday told reporters here they had no idea he had gone to the Middle East. They said the last time they heard from him he was still pursuing his English language studies in New Zealand.

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