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3 Japanese Hostages Released in Baghdad - 2004-04-15

Three Japanese held hostage in Iraq have been released in Baghdad, but there is still concern about two other Japanese who were reported missing on Thursday. The hostages were taken to their government's embassy in Baghdad shortly after being freed on Thursday. Their families rejoiced when scenes were broadcast here of their first minutes of freedom.

Noriaki Imai, Nahoko Takato, and Soichiro Koriyama were held for about one week before they were handed over to Muslim clerics who had mediated the crisis.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad received a phone call telling diplomats to pick up the three hostages at a mosque.

Ms. Kawaguchi said she would like to congratulate the families and that Japan is extremely grateful to all in Iraq and around the world who helped get the hostages released.

Videotape broadcasts of the three while in captivity showed them blindfolded and surrounded by masked men armed with guns and knives. The images shocked Japan and led to the biggest crisis of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration.

Their captors initially threatened to kill them if Japan did not withdraw its troops from Iraq. Fears escalated when those threats were renewed and insurgents killed other foreign civilians this past week.

Ayako Inoue, sister of Ms. Takato, a volunteer aid worker, cried as she described seeing the hostages freed unharmed. Ms. Inoue said that she is so happy and deeply grateful to all who took action to make sure her sister's life was spared.

Japan had appealed to a number of countries, including the United States, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia, for help freeing the two men and one woman.

Two other Japanese - a freelance journalist and a civic activist - are missing and Japanese media report they were taken hostage early Thursday. The Japanese government says it cannot confirm that they are being held.