‘Overwhelming anger’ ... Japan may join fight against militants Libya connection ... Five foreigners still missing

TOKYO, Jan 22, (Agencies): Japan grieved Tuesday over its greatest loss of life at militant hands since 9/11 as the carnage in Algeria provoked soul-searching for a people who have been relatively immune to Islamist terror.

There was blanket media coverage of the news that at least seven Japanese nationals had been killed in the Algerian hostage crisis, with the respected business daily Nikkei describing Japan’s anger as “overwhelming”.

Three other Japanese remained unaccounted for, after heavily armed Islamist gunmen overran the desert gas complex for four days before most were killed by Algerian security forces. At least 37 foreign hostages died in all.

A government plane left Japan late Tuesday bound for Algeria, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It was expected to return on Thursday with survivors and the bodies of those killed, all of whom were employees or contractors for Japanese engineering firm JGC.

“We lost many capable employees. I cannot find the right words,” JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo said as he choked back sobs. “It’s just unbearable.”

The personal stories of the victims have stoked the sense of outrage in Japan.

It emerged that one of those killed was a 66-year-old engineer for JGC who was reaching the end of a long career in the world’s trouble spots — and had been sent back to Algeria at the last minute.
Several newspapers demanded that Tokyo beef up its intelligence operations and coordinate its responses to hostage crises with countries more versed in Islamist attacks, such as Britain and the United States.

The Nikkei said the Japanese government should also step up its efforts to safeguard nationals working in places that are increasingly important to the country’s energy-starved economy.

“There is only so much Japan can do to collect information in the African continent. We should consider a structure under which relevant countries can effectively share information,” it said.

“But at the same time, we must also arrange ways and methods to rescue Japanese nationals in case of emergencies.”

The Mainichi newspaper echoed the call to boost intelligence and military cooperation with Japan’s allies.

“The Japanese government’s measures to deal with the situation were late because information necessary for crisis management did not come as it wished,” it said.

Japanese people have been occasional victims of outrages around the world, but without any significant military involvement in wars in the Muslim world, the country has been largely sheltered from reprisal attacks.

The toll from the terror in Algeria is the highest for Japan since jihadists flew passenger planes into New York’s Twin Towers, killing more than 2,700 people, including 24 Japanese.

The Mainichi warned that young Japanese eyeing a career abroad, doing jobs that could be vital to the country’s prosperity, may be frightened off by the hostage crisis.

A 24-year-old postgraduate student at top-ranking Keio University in Tokyo told the paper he had been looking for opportunities in the region.

“I had believed that people in the Middle East are friendly toward the Japanese and I thought the Japanese are safer there than Westerners are,” he said. “But this has made me worry.”
Rokuro Fuchida, 66, was one of those Japanese who did forge much of their working lives overseas.
The JGC engineer believed his work in Algeria was done last year when he returned to Japan to celebrate New Year with friends and family, a relative told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

He was called back to Algeria to fix a glitch on a project just days before the militants began their rampage on Wednesday.

Ahead of his deployment, Fuchida wrote excitedly about his upcoming mission on his Facebook page.
“Next, I expect to be in Algeria on the African continent to see the starry sky!”

But as the relative put it to the Asahi: “Had he not returned, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Meanwhile, Algerian authorities searched Tuesday for five foreigners still missing and tried to identify seven charred bodies, days after a bloody hostage crisis, a security source said.

“Still no news about the five missing foreigners,” the source told AFP, after Algerian special forces launched a final assault on Saturday against Islamist gunmen at the remote desert gas plant where they seized hundreds of hostages.

Thirty-seven foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the siege by the hostage-takers, who were demanding the release of Islamist prisoners and an end to France’s intervention in Mali.

Announcing the grim body count on Monday, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal did not specify the nationalities of the slain foreigners, and said seven of them remain unidentified, while five foreigners were still missing.

Twenty-nine militants were also killed and three captured.

A source close to hardline Islamist groups said the militants, most of whom were thought to have entered Algeria through northern Mali, received logistical aid from Islamists in Libya.

“Logistical support was provided from Libya,” said the source close to hardline Islamist groups in Libya, which has seen a rise in extremism since the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The source did not specify the exact nature of such aid but acknowledged Libyan Islamists were responsible for establishing contacts between the captors and the media.

Harrowing accounts of the siege have emerged, with survivors recalling how fellow hostages were brutally executed, among them citizens of Japan, which grieved on Tuesday over its greatest loss of life at militant hands since 9/11.

A government plane was to leave Japan late Tuesday bound for Algeria. It was expected to return on Thursday with survivors and the bodies of those killed, all of whom were employees or contractors for Japanese engineering firm JGC.

There was blanket media coverage of the news that at least seven Japanese nationals had been killed in the Algerian hostage crisis, with the respected business daily Nikkei describing Japan’s anger as “overwhelming”.

Three other Japanese remained unaccounted for.

Some foreign governments, and Tokyo in particular, initially voiced concern over Algeria’s response to the crisis, which many observers found hasty, but criticism then focused on the Islamist militants behind the hostage crisis.

The government has said special forces managed to free 685 Algerian and 107 foreign hostages, most of them on Thursday, during their first rescue operation.

The In Amenas plant, which is part of a natural-gas industry vital to Algeria’s economy and which is jointly run by three firms including Britain’s BP, was being brought back on stream on Tuesday, according to the security source.

“Work to restart the complex has begun,” the source said, after a demining and clearance operation at the sprawling desert site was completed.

“But we will have to wait for a week before everything returns to normal,” he added, as there were complicated technical procedures involved in resuming gas production.

Algeria’s Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi had said on Sunday that the wet gas plant would restart “in the next two days,” adding the damage caused during the four-day crisis was “not significant”.

Employees not being treated for shock have been called back to the plant to help with restarting it and specialists have also been brought in from other sites, the security source said.

Citizens
Three US citizens were killed in the hostage standoff, while seven Americans made it out safely, Obama administration officials said Monday.
The State Department confirmed that gas workers Victor Lynn Lovelady of Houston and Gordon Lee Rowan were killed at the Ain Amenas field in the Sahara. US officials identified Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio as the first death last week.

“I’m glad we were able to get some rescued, but we did lose three Americans,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said as he was leaving the Capitol, where he attended President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. “That just tells us that al-Qaeda is committed to creating terror wherever they are and we’ve got to fight back.”

A Colorado man survived the hostage crisis by hiding from the terrorists for 2-1/2 days before escaping to a nearby Algerian military base.

Steven Wysocki of Ebert, Colorado, worked as a production supervisor at the natural gas field. His wife, Kristi, told ABC World News Monday that, at times, the terrorists were only a few feet from where her husband was hiding. She said she felt that her husband “made it to hell and back.”

A US official had told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the FBI had recovered Lovelady’s and Rowan’s bodies and notified their families. The official had no details on how the Americans died, and their hometowns were not released.

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