Japan to launch international anti-terrorism information unit

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (above) said that the new unit will focus on gathering and analysing information.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (above) said that the new unit will focus on gathering and analysing information. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is launching a new diplomatic unit this week to collect and analyse information on international terrorism, the government said on Monday (Dec 7), in light of attacks on its citizens overseas and global assaults including those last month in Paris.

The beheading of two Japanese citizens earlier this year, claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the deaths of 10 others in a hostage crisis in Algeria in 2013 have highlighted the vulnerability of Japanese people abroad.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the chief government spokesman, said the new unit, within the foreign ministry, will focus on gathering and analysing information.

"We will take full measures to prevent terrorism and to protect Japanese nationals from harm," Suga told a regular press conference.

The unit, due to start operating on Tuesday, will have about 20 personnel in Tokyo and 20 more based in Japanese diplomatic missions abroad, officials have said, and will concentrate on four geographic areas: South-east Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North and West Africa.

The government had originally planned to start the unit in April 2016. But recent major terrorist attacks, such as those in Paris, prompted the start date to be brought forward, a Japanese diplomat said.

Until the last few years Japan had been virtually unaffected by international terrorism, though there have been several incidents in the past, including when one of its aircraft was hijacked in the 1970s by a domestic group allied with a Palestinian faction in the Middle East.

Suga also expressed Japan's solidarity with the United States shortly after President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he vowed to defeat ISIS following last week's deadly rampage in California, which the US leader described as an act of terrorism.

Suga added that Tokyo will work closely with the US and other countries "to prevent acts of terrorism".

Japan has taken other steps in recent years to upgrade its intelligence-gathering capability including launching satellites to monitor North Korea, which has carried out nuclear tests and routinely threatens Japan.

The country is also making a point of showing that it is increasing security as it prepares to host the next G7 summit in May as well as the summer Olympics in 2020.