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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 June, 2005, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Noriaki Imai profile
Noriaki Imai, went to Iraq in April 2004 with two friends Nahoko Takato and Soichiro Koriyama. They had gone to Iraq to research the use of depleted uranium in weapons used by coalition forces. He was 18 years old.

Freed Japanese hostages Nahoko Takato (left) and Noriaki Imai
Relieved to be freed alive but Noriaki (right) faced criticism on his return to his home country
"Weapons which should not have been used were being used and I felt disgusted by this... and I thought if I went to Iraq young people in my country might begin to show an interest in this."

On 8 April 2004, while travelling from Baghdad to Amman, They were kidnapped and held somewhere near Falluja. The group holding them called themselves "The Mujahadeen Brigade" and threatened to kill the three unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq.

"First of all they said 'move, move'... then a crowd of between 40 and 50 people surrounded us. 'Kill the Japanese' they shouted, making a gesture. We were pushed into a car, a hand grenade was pressed in my face. I very clearly remember thinking to myself, 'I am going to die now.' The faces of my family flashed in front of me, one by one."

"Someone brought in a video camera and I wondered what was going on. They started running the camera, and at that moment, an insurgent placed a knife on my neck. Then three or four insurgents came towards me front in front of me and behind me, they pointed a knife at me again, but in a very violent manner this time. At that point I was really terrified".

They were released on 15 April 2004 and returned home to face enormous public criticism. Noriaki received hundreds of emails from people who said they had brought shame on their country. He has spent that last six months studying in Cambridge and hopes to be able to return to Japan soon.

BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Noriaki Imai on how being taken hostage has affected him



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