TOKYO – A body found in Iraq resembles a Japanese civilian taken hostage by Islamic militants and threatened with death, but the Japanese government has not yet positively identified it, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Saturday.
Hatsuhisa Takashima said the body found near the Iraqi city of Tikrit was being flown to Doha, Qatar, for examination to determine if it was hostage Shosei Koda (search), 24. The body was found by the U.S. military.
"We've been told by the U.S. military that several parts of the body, such as the height, weight and part of the head, resemble Koda," Takashima said.
The head had a bald spot resembling Koda's, he said. It was unclear whether the head was severed.
NHK public broadcaster, quoting government sources, said the body showed two gunshot wounds to the head. Kyodo News agency reported bruises and other marks of a severe beating.
The Al Qaeda-linked group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) threatened Tuesday to behead Koda within 48 hours unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) firmly rejected that demand, saying he would not give in to terrorists.
Officials checked the Web site of the militant group holding Koda and found no new information, Takashima said. The group earlier this week posted video of Koda speaking and militants threatening to kill him.
More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq this year, and at least 33 have been killed. Al-Zarqawi and his followers have claimed responsibility for beheading several hostages, including three Americans and a Briton.
The Tikrit Joint Coordination Center of the U.S. military was notified early Friday by an anonymous tip that the body of an Asian male had been brought to the Tikrit Hospital. A patrol from the 1st Infantry Division arrived at the hospital and recovered the body, bringing it to a mortuary at a local forward operating base in Tikrit, about 50 miles north of Balad.
In Tokyo, Koda's mother, Setsuko Koda, pleaded Friday for her son's safe release.
"I told myself that he would come home alive, that he was born to help the world. I believe he will come home alive," she told reporters in Tokyo.
Asked if she wanted the government to pull Japanese troops out of Iraq to try to save her son, she said: "We are not in a position to demand one thing or another from the government."
She then added: "But if possible, it would be good if civilians brought peace to Iraq."
The government had notified Koda's family of the developments, Takashima said. The family was reportedly set to travel to Qatar.
Koda, who left Japan in January for a yearlong trip, told fellow travelers he wanted to see Iraq. He entered Iraq on Oct. 21 as a tourist and was last seen two days later at a Baghdad bus station.
Many Japanese have expressed bewilderment over why the English language student would go there. When five Japanese were taken hostage in Iraq in April and later freed unharmed, they faced a public backlash, as many accused them of recklessly entering Iraq despite government warnings to stay away.
Japanese government envoy Shuzen Tanigawa arrived in Jordan on Thursday to coordinate diplomatic efforts to free Koda. The abductors have made no contact with Japanese authorities, Tanigawa said.
Jordan's King Abdullah II told Tanigawa his country was in contact with unspecified Iraqis to win Koda's freedom, according to the country's official Petra news agency.