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Arabic TV Reports Japanese Hostages Held in Iraq to be Freed - 2004-04-10

The Arabic television station Al-Jazeera reports the kidnappers of three Japanese citizens in Iraq say they will free the hostages within 24 hours.

The satellite TV station reported the kidnappers agreed to free the Japanese hostages in response to an appeal from Iraqi Muslim clerics. The kidnappers had threatened to burn their captives alive unless Japan withdrew its forces from Iraq within three days.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he would not give in to the kidnappers' demands. Japan has about 500 non-combat troops in Iraq working on reconstruction.

The kidnapping threatened to overshadow a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrived in Tokyo late Saturday. Mr. Cheney will meet with Prime Minister Koizumi on Monday to discuss Iraq, North Korea and other issues.

Earlier, gunmen in Iraq seized another hostage, apparently an American civilian, near Baghdad.

A reporter for Australian ABC television who filmed the American being taken away by his captors said the man had been wounded in the arm. The hostage, who identified himself as Thomas Hamill, told the reporter he had been riding in a highway convoy that was attacked Friday.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi group said it is holding 30 Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and South Korean hostages. The group threatened to kill them unless U.S. forces end their blockade of Fallujah.

But the claim, shown on Al-Arabiya television, did not include pictures of any hostages, and the group's statement has not been independently confirmed.