Algeria survivors and dead arrive in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:28am


The seven Japanese survivors of the Algerian hostage crisis, and nine of the 10 dead, arrived back in a shell-shocked Japan yesterday as the prime minister spoke of the nation's "deepest grief".

Haneda Airport officials used black umbrellas to shield those getting off the government plane from the glare of cameras.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida stood alongside officials from engineering firm JGC, which employed all the Japanese caught up in the siege, bowing deeply after the coffins were brought out from the plane's cargo hold.

Three trailers, each carrying three coffins, lined up near the plane's tail as the assembled dignitaries laid bouquets of white flowers on them. Tokyo on Thursday said it had accounted for all 10 Japanese men who had been out of contact since Islamist gunmen stormed the In Amenas gas plant in the Sahara desert over a week ago. All were dead.

Dozens of foreigners were killed during a four-day stand-off that ended in a showdown with Algerian commandos last Saturday amid reports of summary executions. Japan's death toll was the highest of any nation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a meeting of his senior ministers yesterday, said the nation was in mourning for those killed.

"As a government, we again express our deepest condolences for the pain of the bereaved families," he said.

"It is with deepest grief we have learned that 10 Japanese nationals who worked on the front lines of international business have become casualties."

At the headquarters of JGC, mourners continued to pay respects in front of a makeshift altar. A steady stream of visitors dressed in black solemnly bowed to a Buddhist cenotaph.

The loss of so many colleagues is a heavy blow to JGC in a country where corporate communities are close-knit and company loyalties remain strong.

Company president Koichi Kawana held a deep bow for several seconds when he appeared in front of Japan's media.

"Our grief is heartbreaking," he said, in remarks that were televised live nationwide. "We have lost 10 magnificent staff. Our task now is to push forward the engineering business of which we are all so proud and ensure absolutely the safety of our staff, the most valuable assets a company has."

Tatsuhiro Hayashi, the president of a consulting firm that does business with JGC, said: "I'm afraid that this incident could lead to growing fears among people, especially families of Japanese workers overseas," he said.

At least 37 foreign hostages were killed in the siege according to a preliminary death toll, as well as one Algerian hostage.