updated 4/27/2004 8:03:26 AM ET 2004-04-27T12:03:26

Three Japanese who were held hostage for a week in Iraq were billed about $7,000 each to cover their plane tickets home and other miscellaneous expenses, an official said Monday.

The three returned last week amid a storm of criticism that they behaved recklessly in going to a country that Japan had repeatedly warned civilians to avoid.

The government said aid workers Noriaki Imai, 18, and Nahoko Takato, 34, and freelance photojournalist Soichiro Koriyama, 32, were being billed in the same manner as other Japanese civilians who have been transported home after getting into trouble overseas.

A travel agency has sent the former hostages and their families invoices, a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. The ministry believes the three should pay the agency directly, she added.

They were kidnapped by militants who threatened to burn them alive if Tokyo did not withdraw its troops from Iraq within three days. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi refused to comply, and the gunmen released the three unharmed a week later after an appeal by Islamic clerics.

Chilly welcome
They received a chilly welcome in Japan, however, amid accusations they imperiled Tokyo’s humanitarian mission. Satoru Saito, a psychiatrist who examined them, said the pressures of coming home to Japan added to their stress of being in captivity.

Takato had worked with street children in Baghdad and was planning to go back when she and the two others were grabbed by militants. Imai had intended to do research to raise awareness about the health effects of depleted uranium munitions, while Koriyama planned to report on Iraq for a weekly news magazine.

The three, who have not spoken to the media since their return April 18, did not respond publicly to the news about their bill.

Sayo Saruta, a lawyer and a member of a support group acting as a media liaison for the victims and their families, said her group believes the three should pay whatever fees would normally be charged in such circumstances.

Their families have already paid for their medical checkups in Dubai and their accommodation there, the ministry official said. The government earlier said the three would be charged roughly $6,000 each.

Harumi Arima, a political analyst, said the public backlash against the victims stemmed from how their relatives tearfully — and at times angrily — demanded the government withdraw its troops from Iraq to save the lives of their loved ones.

“It’s the families and the way they demanded a pullout,” Arima said. “People thought, ’It was you who went to Iraq. Why are you asking the government to rescue you when you’ve been kidnapped? You were told not to go.”’

Boost for Koizumi
Arima said TV images of some of the victims’ siblings yelling at government officials to do more fueled the criticism.

The families toned down their requests as the crisis dragged on, later declining to repeat their early demand for an immediate troop withdrawal.

One of the government’s sternest critics of the hostages, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, said Monday they had to be ready for the worst when they entered Iraq.

“Taken to the extreme, if you go to a dangerous place like that, your loss of life is your responsibility,” Fukuda said at a news conference. “You have to be prepared for something like that.”

The hostage crisis threatened Koizumi’s hold on power, with analysts predicting his popularity would plunge if any of the hostages was killed. Their safe return, however, wound up giving him a boost.

Polls showed more than 70 percent approved of his refusal to withdraw troops and more than 60 percent commended his overall handling of the crisis.

The outcome helped his ruling Liberal Democratic Party sweep special elections Sunday to fill vacancies for three seats in the lower house.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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