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Minister: 'Friend of a friend' in al Qaeda

  • Story Highlights
  • Hatoyama: Alleged al Qaeda member entered, left Japan several times
  • Hatoyama: A man in his butterfly collectors group knows alleged member
  • "I didn't know of the terrorist attack plans before the incident took place," he says
  • New immigration procedures will require foreigners to provide fingerprints
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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japan's justice minister said "a friend of a friend ... is a member of al Qaeda" and had entered the country several times, using various passports, an officer of the Justice Ministry told CNN.

Hatoyama says a friend from a butterfly collectors group knows a member of al Qaeda.

Justice Minister Kumio Hatoyama's comments came during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Monday when he was explaining Japan's new, tougher immigration procedures, which will require foreigners to provide finger prints and photographs upon entering the country.

"A friend of a friend of mine is a member of al Qaeda involved in a bombing in Bali," Hatoyama said, adding the alleged member of the terrorist network had gone in and out of Japan a number of times two or three years ago.

Later on Monday, Hatoyama held another news conference and tried to clarify his comments, saying, "I am not a friend of the terrorist and I do not know him personally."

According to Hatoyama, he does know a man in a butterfly collectors group he belongs to who said he received a message from a man believed to be involved with a terrorist organization.

The minister said he learned three or four months after the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that his friend had been given prior warning not to travel to central Bali, site of the terrorist attacks that killed more than 200 people -- mostly Westerners.

Subsequent attacks were staged on the Australian Embassy and J.W. Marriott hotel, both in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

"I didn't know of the terrorist attack plans before the incident took place," Hatoyama said.

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said it was clear that Hatoyama did not directly know the al Qaeda member, but he urged Hatoyama before a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to be more careful in his remarks.

"I fear his comments could lead to misunderstanding," Machimura told reporters. "It would be unfortunate if it was thought that Japan's justice minister had contacts with terrorists."

Indonesian police have said the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on Bali were carried out by the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group. The Southeast Asian terror organization has also been blamed for the 2005 attacks.

Hatoyama's statement came during a news conference to discuss a new program to fingerprint nearly all foreigners entering Japan. The minister appeared to be offering the anecdote as evidence of the program's necessity; critics have denounced the program as a violation of human rights.

"The fact is that such foreign people can easily enter Japan," Hatoyama said. "In terms of security, this is not a preferable situation."

Tokyo's support of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and dispatch of forces to each region have raised concerns that Japan could be targeted by terrorists.

"I know this may cause a lot of inconvenience, but it's very necessary to fight terror," Hatoyama said of the fingerprinting measures. "Japan may also become a victim of a terrorist attack." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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