updated 5/15/2005 2:16:02 AM ET 2005-05-15T06:16:02

A security worker who survived an ambush in Iraq has said a Japanese colleague believed to have been taken hostage was severely wounded and is likely dead, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

The Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed on its Web site Monday that it ambushed a group of five foreign workers, killing four and kidnapping the fifth — 44-year-old Akihito Saito.

On Sunday, the group issued a video on its Web site purportedly showing their attack, but Saito’s image could not be confirmed in the video clip, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported from Cairo. The report provided no other details.

Tokyo has been unable to confirm Saito’s whereabouts or condition.

The witness, identified only as a non-Iraqi man who worked with Saito at the international security firm Hart GMSSCO in Baghdad, met Japanese officials outside Iraq late Friday, providing new details of their desperate escape from the ambush, a ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity. The official said the government considered the account reliable.

Man disappeared after attack
Saito was shot while the workers were fleeing from the attackers outside a U.S. base in Hit, about 95 miles west of Baghdad, after delivering equipment. The colleague said he had to leave Saito behind and sought refuge at a nearby U.S. security checkpoint after an Iraqi man offered him a ride, the official said.

When the colleague returned to the area, he said Saito was gone, although he found several other bodies. He told Japanese officials that Saito’s injuries were so severe it seemed unlikely that he had survived.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Saturday that the government had tried to contact the captors through intermediaries: “We are trying everything we can, but so far he has not been found.”

Last year, when five Japanese were taken hostage in Iraq and later released, many Japanese criticized them for recklessly endangering themselves. In October, when Iraqi militants beheaded a Japanese backpacker, many here blamed the victim for his own death.

But those incidents also fueled opposition to Japan’s presence in Iraq. Many Japanese have criticized it as a violation of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

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