Tokyo: Friends and colleagues of the nine Japanese known to have perished in the Algerian desert siege paid tribute at a makeshift altar at their employers' headquarters Thursday, as survivors headed for home. Mourners dressed in black solemnly pressed their hands together and bowed to a Buddhist cenotaph set up at plant-builder JGC's Yokohama offices, southwest of Tokyo.
An elegantly handwritten prayer for those who lost their lives was inscribed on the wooden tablet, around which lay bouquets of white flowers. The loss of at least nine people is a heavy blow to JGC, with corporate communities in Japan close-knit and company loyalties remaining strong. Media reported Thursday that the still-unaccounted-for tenth Japanese victim of the Islamist gunmen's four-day rampage was Tadanori Aratani, 66, a former vice president of JGC and lately its supreme adviser.
The government has so far refused to identify those who died, although newspapers and broadcasters have told the stories of some victims, including through heart-wrenching tales of plans to return for family celebrations.Broadcaster NHK spoke to the sobbing elderly mother of one man struggling to come to terms with the loss of her son less than two years after the March 2011 tsunami swept her husband to his death.
A plane carrying the bodies of the victims left Algeria on Thursday, bound for Tokyo's Haneda airport. Kyodo reported that post-mortem examinations will be carried out in Japan to determine exactly how each person died. All seven Japanese survivors of the siege, some of whom had the grisly task of identifying dead colleagues, are also aboard the plane, along with JGC president Koichi Kawana.
"The prime minister instructed the government to do its best to confirm the fate of the final missing person," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference. Japanese government officials dispatched to Algeria will resume their efforts, including visiting morgues, he said.
"It could take some time as (the bodies) were badly damaged. We are carrying out our confirmation work carefully," he said. Seventeen Japanese were at the facility in Algeria's remote east when jihadists struck on Wednesday last week at the start of a four-day siege that left dozens of foreigners dead.
Japan was among the more forthright of nations as the hostage crisis unfolded, summoning the Algerian ambassador to demand answers on the situation and press for restraint from the army. World capitals have since rowed back from comments that may have been seen as overly critical in Algiers, and have repeatedly stressed that the hostage takers bear full responsibility for the desert outrage.