Japan mourns Algeria victims

‘DEEPEST GRIEF’::The bodies of nine employees of engineering firm JGC who died at the In Amenas complex in Algeria, and seven survivors, landed in Tokyo yesterday

AFP, TOKYO

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 - Page 6

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.”

Emotional reunions away from the glare of publicity awaited those who made it out of the In Amenas complex alive, amid a renewed national sense of the perils of doing business in resource-rich, but unstable parts of the world.

A government-owned plane with its national flag livery touched down at Haneda Airport as a warm orange sun rose over Tokyo.

Airport officials used black umbrellas to shield those getting off the plane from the glare of cameras feeding blanket media coverage in a country baffled by what happened half a world away.

Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida stood alongside officials from engineering firm JGC, which employed — directly or indirectly — all 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 on them bouquets of white flowers, a common offering for the deceased in Japan.

Tokyo on Thursday said it had now accounted for all 10 men who had been out of contact since Islamist gunmen stormed the desert gas plant over a week ago.

Dozens of foreigners were killed during a four-day standoff that ended in a bloody showdown with Algerian commandos last Saturday, with reports of summary executions.

Japan’s body count of 10 is the highest of any nation whose citizens were caught up in the crisis in the Sahara and an unusual taste of Jihadist anger for a country that has remained far from US-led wars in the Muslim world.

Japanese 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 frontlines 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, as they urged departed souls to find peace.

An elegantly handwritten prayer for those who lost their lives was inscribed on a wooden tablet, around which lay bouquets of white flowers.

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 assembled press corps.

“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.”