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    Japanese hostage reported dead

    There’s been basically no news of late about the Japanese man taken captive in Iraq a few weeks back. This morning, the Nikkei passes on a report:

    The Iraqi militant group Ansar Sunna, which is believed to have captured Akihiko Saito (44), an employee of a UK-based security company, published sound and video files on its website early this morning that indicate that Saito has been killed. The video includes the corpse of a man who appears Asian and a passport; the Japanese government is hurrying to gather and analyze available information to determine whether the man is Saito.

    The video, just under 4 minutes long, shows a short-haired Asian-looking man lying face up and bleeding from the head. He is wearing a black T-shirt and beige trousers. Explanatory subtitles state in Arabic, “This is a tape of a Japanese who was working as a security manager for the US base at Assad. He was captured in a fierce battle with soldiers of the Jihad. He died of multiple bullet wounds.”

    I assume NHK will have more by evening. Incidentally, the word used to translate jihad here is 聖戦 (seisen: “sacred” + “war”). It’s generic enough to refer to the Crusades as well, but the specific word used for them is usually 十字軍 (juujigun: “cross” + “army”). Because the character for 10 (十) is cruciform, they say “shaped like 10.” 聖 is one of those characters that are applied to native Japanese words in a way that seems to reveal meaning associations from way, way back. The Japanese reading, kiyo, is frequenty found in names and can also be designated by characters such as 清 (“clear [water]”), 淳 (“ingenuous”), 浄 (“pure”), 潔 (“clean”). Ritual purity is the most important element of sacredness in Japan.

    Added on 29 May: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says, “There’s little choice but to say that this is Mr. Saito.”

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