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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007
Hatoyama in hot water over 'al-Qaida connection'
By JUN HONGO
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama found himself in hot water Monday after telling reporters that he has an acquaintance who was a friend of an al-Qaida terrorist involved in the October 2002 bombing in Bali, Indonesia.
"A friend of a friend of mine is a member of al-Qaida," Hatoyama said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, adding the terrorist, who had given the friend prior warning not to go near Bali, was suspected of repeatedly entering Japan in the following years.
Hatoyama made the remark as he was explaining Japan's new immigration procedures, which will require foreigners to provide fingerprints and photographs upon entering the country.
His attempt to illustrate the threat of terrorism in Japan drew a strong response among reporters, forcing him to hold another news conference later at the Justice Ministry to provide clarification.
"I am not a friend of the terrorist, and I do not know him personally," he explained at the ministry.
Hatoyama said that a member of a butterfly collectors' group, of which he is also a member, knew a man believed to be involved with a terrorist organization.
Hatoyama learned three months after the Bali bombing that his fellow butterfly collector had been given prior warning from the person about the terrorist attack.
"I did not know of the terrorism attack plans before the incident took place," he said, adding that he was told by the friend a couple of years later that the al-Qaida-linked person may have entered Japan several times after the incident. However, immigration authorities told him that they could not confirm the person's entry, Hatoyama said.
He said the experience prompted him to feel the need for tightening immigration control.
"It is vital that we take fingerprints (from foreign visitors) in order to prevent terrorism attacks," he said.
The change in immigration procedures, which take effect Nov. 20, will oblige an estimated 6 million to 7 million non-Japanese entering the country every year to provide fingerprints and photographs. Only those under age 16, ethnic Koreans and other special permanent residents, diplomats and those invited by the government will be exempt.