TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister on Monday said seven Japanese deaths had been confirmed in the Algerian hostage crisis, the first official confirmation from Tokyo that any of its nationals had died.
"I was informed by Vice-Foreign Minister (Minoru) Kiuchi that as a result of identifications of bodies at a hospital in In Amenas, seven were confirmed to be Japanese employees of JGC," Mr Shinzo Abe told his ministers.
The Japanese firm earlier said it did not know the fate of 17 of its employees, 10 of whom were Japanese.
Mr Abe said it had not been possible so far to confirm what had happened to the other Japanese nationals who remain unaccounted for.
“There are still three more Japanese people whose safety has not been confirmed. I want all of you to do everything possible to continue gathering information and confirm their fate,” he told his ministers.
“Japanese people who work at the world’s frontiers, the innocent people, were victimised. It is extremely painful,” Mr Abe said.
A witness at the desert gas plant told AFP he was aware of nine Japanese deaths over the extended siege, which began on Wednesday and ended in a bloodbath on Saturday whenthe Algerian military moved in.
Mr Abe was speaking as his Algerian counterpart, Mr Abdelmalek Sellal, was giving his first full account of the crisis, which brought an initial backlash against what some world leadershinted was a too-hasty military response.
Mr Sellal said Algiers had confirmed the deaths of 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities after the gas plant was overrun by Islamist gunmen.
He also said the 32 militants who staged the dramatic siege, taking hundreds of workers hostage, came from northern Mali. Twenty-nine of them were killed and three arrested. He added that some hostages had been executed with a “bullet to the head”.