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Three Japanese hostages released

Reports: More Japanese abducted


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The three were shown sitting in a Baghdad office.

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(CNN) -- Three Japanese civilians taken hostage and threatened on video to be burned alive unless Japan pulled out of Iraq have been released.

Arab television station Al-Jazeera on Thursday showed footage of the trio -- identified as volunteer workers Noriaki Imai, 18, Nahoko Takato, 34, and photojournalist Soichiro Koriyama, 32 -- sitting on sofas and arm chairs in a Baghdad office.

They were released in good health to the Muslim Clerics Association in Baghdad, Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday.

In Tokyo, the Japanese government confirmed their release.

The release of the Japanese follows the execution of an Italian hostage by his captors in Iraq and reports of the abduction of two other Japanese.

Officials in Rome said on Thursday that Fabrizio Quattrocchi -- a contractor with a private security firm -- had been killed. Quattrocchi's death is the first confirmed killing of a hostage in Iraq. (Full story)

Three other Italians are still being held hostage, along with dozens of other foreign nationals throughout Iraq.

The three Japanese released Thursday were taken hostage by militants who threatened to kill them unless Japan withdraws its non-combat troops from Iraq.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had refused, insisting the soldiers will complete their humanitarian mission.

A video released April 8 showed the three blindfolded and surrounded by captors armed with rifles and swords.

The video included scenes of one of the abductors holding swords and knives at the hostages' necks and chests.

More abducted

Meanwhile, the Japanese government says it is investigating reports that two more of its citizens have been kidnapped in Iraq.

"The reports are unconfirmed, but it appears two more people have been kidnapped," Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Thursday.

Cabinet spokeman Yasuo Fukuda said they are trying to confirm the information.

The Japan Visual Journalists Association (JVJA) Wednesday night received an e-mail from someone who said he or she witnessed the kidnapping.

In the e-mail, the person said that the two Japanese nationals were abducted while traveling to the site of a reported downed helicopter near Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The JVJA identified the missing Japanese as Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist, and Nobutaka Watanabe, a peace activist.

Japan has urged its citizens to leave Iraq as has France as militants in Iraq capture more and more hostages.

Russia on Thursday began an evacuation of its citizens who wanted to leave. (Full story)

Japan has 550 of its non-combat Self Defense Forces stationed in Iraq to help rebuild the country, as part of the U.S.-led coalition.


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