Insurgents Say They Have Killed Japanese

By Jonathan Finer and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 29, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 28 -- An insurgent group said in an Internet posting Saturday that it had killed a Japanese hostage captured after his convoy was attacked near the western city of Hit on May 8.

A video posted on a Web site used by insurgents to distribute information appeared to show the blood-soaked body of Akihiko Saito, 44, a security contractor for a British firm, as well as some of his identification papers.

The Iraqi national security minister, Abdul-Karim Enizi, condemned the killing in a statement and said efforts had been made to negotiate Saito's release, but that "the assassination came before we reached a decision with the other side."

Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said that they needed to review physical evidence such as DNA or dental samples to be sure the body was Saito's, but that the corpse in the video seemed almost certainly to be his.

"We have to conclude, with regret, that it is Mr. Saito," a ministry source told reporters in Tokyo.

Officials said Saito's employer, Hart Security, and Japanese police had studied the footage and concluded that the body shown was his. Hironobu Saito, the victim's younger brother, said in a written statement through local authorities in Chiba, a large suburb east of Tokyo, that the images "confirmed that it is my elder brother."

The insurgent group known as the Ansar al-Sunna Army asserted responsibility for the killing. Six Japanese civilians have been taken hostage since the U.S. invasion of Iraq; two of them have been killed. Japan has about 600 troops based in the southern city of Samawah.

"This criminal act will not affect diplomatic relations between Iraq and Japan," Enizi said in the statement.

Also Saturday, two car bombs exploded at 8:30 a.m. in the northern city of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The suicide blasts targeted an Iraqi military checkpoint and killed four Iraqi soldiers and three civilian laborers. About 35 others were wounded, according a doctor at Sinjar Hospital.

"We were working outside, in front of the main gate, and we saw a car driving fast toward us," said Jalal Mattu Khalaf, 31, a construction worker who was wounded in the blast. "We started running. When the explosion happened, I did not feel anything, except I hit a wall and bricks started falling on my chest."

About 150 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen in Kirkuk shot and killed Sheik Nayif Sabhan Jubouri, a former city council member there and a member of a prominent Sunni tribe, according to police Col. Adil Zain Alabideen.

In Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, three Iraqi army soldiers were killed in a drive-by shooting and another was wounded, according to police Capt. Muthana Hussein.

Also in Hilla, a court issued death sentences for six alleged members of the militant group al Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, Iraqi television reported. Iraqi courts recently began imposing the death penalty, which had been suspended by U.S. administrators following the invasion in 2003. The six included three Iraqis, a Jordanian, a Tunisian and a Sudanese.

And with a gaping power shortage expected in the sweltering summer months, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in the country, issued a fatwa , or religious order, calling on followers to use less electricity, according to Raad Haris, deputy minister of electricity. Harif, who met with Sistani on Saturday in Najaf, 90 miles south of Baghdad, said the cleric also told followers to stop stealing electricity from the country's power grid.

In the city of Qaim, 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, the bodies of 10 people returning from a religious pilgrimage in Syria were found, the Associated Press reported.

Faiola reported from Tokyo. Special correspondents Dlovan Barwari in Mosul, Saad Sarhan in Najaf, Marwan Ani in Kirkuk, and Khalid Saffar, Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti in Baghdad contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company