In an exclusive interview for National Yemen weekly English newspaper, Mr. K. Sotomine, the Japanese Consul speaks to the editor about his kidnapping attempt by the mid of last December. An interesting details of the case kidnapping attempt, his fight back, his family and government reaction and more are the key subjects of this interview.
First of all, we would like to welcome you back. You were very lucky to avoid getting kidnapped. Can you tell us the story?
I would like to say thank you for making an opportunity to explain about my experience. And I also would like to say “thank you” for all Yemeni citizens, hospital officials, and security agencies, who supported and helped me when I had serious injuries.
As you know, around 7:45 am, December 15, 2013, this unfortunate incident took place. As usual, I drove to the Japanese Embassy in my private car. The weather was fine. On the way to the Embassy, a taxi slowly stopped in front of my car very suddenly. Because it was a slow speed, I thought they lost their way. Since the taxi stopped, I had no choice but stop my car. Suddenly, armed men with guns and daggers came out of the taxi, and they tried to break into my car. I thought they were an armed gang with the aim to kidnapping me or stealing my car. Unfortunately, the distance was so close that they entered immediately. At that time, unfortunately, my door locks were not working.
One of them entered in the passenger seat, and the others got into the back seat. Two of them took out their daggers and started yelling something in Arabic. An armed man in the passenger seat had a gun on me. I threw the armed man outside of the vehicle after struggling against them in the car. At that time, the armed man shot a gun into the sky, and got into the passenger seat behind me. The men in the back seat tried to cut me for a second time, and with no weapon, I had no defense against them slashing my head. I was bleeding severely, and thought that resisting any more was not a good idea. I got out of my car of my own will, and after that, they threatened me, and drove off. That is the whole story.
What was your reaction when you first realized that you were facing a trap? Did you have your bodyguard with you?
At that time, I drove my own private vehicle without a personal bodyguard, and without a driver. Since I was a police officer in Japan, I have training in Judo, and Kendo, the martial arts of Japan. I assume they were waiting for me to come to that place, because of the timing of how that taxi interrupted me at just the right time. I could only resist through my upper body because we were struggling in the car.
How long have you been in Yemen? Did you expect incidents like this?
I started to work as a diplomat at the Embassy of Japan in Yemen in March 2012. It has already been about two years. When I came for the first time, I was also able to walk around my dormitory. In retrospect, it was a good time. In fact, the murder cases and kidnapping cases (including attempted kidnapping) against foreigners have only become more frequent in Sana’a since the middle of 2012. Therefore, it was safe to assume that an incident of mine might happen.
Do you still think Yemen is safe after this? If so, why?
Kidnapping and murder cases against foreigners after my incident happened have still occurred since the beginning of this year. The fact that such incidents occurred frequently near diplomatic and international organization facilities, especially in the Hadda area, is very disappointing. I think that the Yemeni government is working towards a stable security situation, but it cannot be said that public security is increasing because kidnapping cases against foreigners are occurring very frequently in a short period of time.
How did your family react? What about your office?
After hearing the news, my wife was surprised and cried so much in Japan. Also, my parents, relatives, and Japanese coworkers of mine were worried about whether I was still alive or not. After I was admitted in a hospital in Sana’a, I could keep in touch with my wife over the phone, and I could inform her directly that I was safe. She was very relieved to hear that. There is quite a large geographic difference between Yemen and Japan, so there is also a lot of time lag. It seemed like my wife wanted to fly to Yemen as soon as possible to confirm my safety. I’m just thankful for all the luck that me and my family have experienced in this incident.
After it happened, I contacted the DCM of our embassy and also security guards to request help with my cell phone. With an Embassy vehicle, I was taken to the hospital near 60 Meter.
Why did you return to Yemen? Were you offered a position elsewhere?
I was appointed to Yemen from March 2012. Yemen was a far country for me back then. But now, I can say that Yemen is a second home for me, and that Yemen is irreplaceable, partially because I have quite a lot of dear Yemeni friends. I also thought that I still had a lot of things to be done, and that I had to return. I am just one person in Yemen, but I believe I can be a bridge between Yemen and Japan as a member of Embassy of Japan.
It is a great pleasure for me I could return back to Yemen again. Also, I began studying martial arts in high school, and have studied for more than ten years. “Samurai spirit” was cultivated in my mind and it might have made me decide to come back to Yemen again. I thought that I should not give up my activity in Yemen because of a few bad criminals. In these critical situations, I believe I have to exert my full ability in Yemen, for Yemen. That is why I came back to Yemen. After this incident happened, I was not presented any special position and status at all. It is simply my own decision based on my free will that it should come back to Yemen.
Has there been any breakthrough in the investigation?
I have heard that Yemeni security agencies are working on the investigation.
I know you have visited a major Yemeni businessman recently, what was the purpose of that visit?
After my incident, many kind Yemeni people told me words of encouragement and sympathy. In addition, some Yemeni people sent me words of apology on behalf of the people of Yemen. An apology for me was advertised in Yemeni newspapers on behalf of the country’s people, and so I visited a prominent Yemeni businessman (Mr. Hassan M. Al-Kbous of Al-Kbous Coffee Company) to inform him that I had returned and recovered. I realize I should visit all Yemeni people who visited our Embassy and the hospital to encourage me, but my time is limited and my body also cannot handle it. I would like to use this article to tell such kind people, “thank you, and I am back to Yemen now.”
How do you feel about those who are kidnapped and still not free?
I heard some hostages are in a bad condition. I hope that these hostages can return back to their country and their families safely.
Is there anything you want to say to those destabilizing the country’s security?
I hope that the security situation improves as soon as possible in Yemen and I hope that a time can come when everyone who lives in Yemen, be they Yemenis or foreigners, can live in safety and peace.”
Do you have anything left to say?
This incident was a regrettable event for me. However, I believe that friendly relations between Yemen and Japan will not collapse due to such bad incidents. I want to emphasize that in our generation, and even the generation of our children, Yemen and Japan are linked by tight bonds. My term is up in April 2014, but I am really pleased that I could return to Yemen.