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Japan gov't warned Dr. Nakamura of possible attack in Afghanistan after tipoff

From left, the wife and daughter of slain Japanese physician Tetsu Nakamura stand next to his coffin after they arrived to pay their tribute to Nakamura at the Afghan military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Tamana Sarwary)

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been aware of a plan to attack Tetsu Nakamura, a physician with the NGO Peshawar-kai who was fatally shot in Afghanistan on Dec. 4, and warned him while he was temporarily back in Japan the month before, sources close to the government have revealed.

Local authorities in Afghanistan also reportedly shared similar information with Nakamura. It is likely that the deadly attack was executed based on a well-laid plan in defiance of the increased vigilance.

Nakamura, 73, a local leader of the Fukuoka-based NGO, was assaulted at around 8 a.m. on Dec. 4 while he was traveling in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to an irrigation canal project site about 25 kilometers from Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, where his office and lodgings were located, according to Peshawar-kai and other sources.

The Japanese foreign ministry had acquired information sometime before mid-November to the effect that an armed group was planning to attack Nakamura in Jalalabad, which the ministry says was highly credible. The ministry had accordingly shared the information with the doctor when he was temporarily back in Japan around that time.

On Dec. 5, Nangarhar Gov. Shahmahmood Miakhel told the Mainichi Shimbun that there had previously been information about potential danger to Nakamura and that he had been alerted about it.

The governor said four soldiers and one police officer, as well as a guard vehicle, were protecting Nakamura. Local police said five others were slain in the attack besides Nakamura, including the driver and at least one security guard. It is unclear whether the five included the soldiers cited by the governor.

Nangarhar province has been a stronghold of the Islamic State militant group and there are many districts beyond government control. As no claim for responsibility has been issued, local authorities are trying to quickly identify the assailants in the attack.

Mitsuji Fukumoto, a director of Peshawar-kai in charge of public relations, suggested during a media conference on Dec. 4 that Nakamura had taken every safety measure possible in Afghanistan. "He was aware that he was most vulnerable to danger while traveling and was undoubtedly sensitive about security. He never traveled without a security guard and changed routes every time."

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced at a Dec. 6 news conference that a ministry employee belonging to the emergency response team (ERT) was dispatched to Afghanistan to support Nakamura's family. The official left Japan late on Dec. 5 and is assisting the bereaved family with their travel and preparations for the return of Nakamura's body to Japan.

ERTs are dispatched when Japanese nationals are caught up in terrorist attacks and natural disasters overseas to respond to them. When a wave of terrorist bombings hit Sri Lanka in April this year, three ERT members were dispatched to the country.

(Japanese original by Issei Suzuki, Foreign News Department; Kenta Somatani, Kyushu News Department; and So Matsui, New Delhi Bureau)

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