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Bodies of 9 killed in Algeria return to Japan

Mourners offer a prayer near bouquets left in honor of the Japanese employees of JGC Corporation who died in the standoff at Ain Amenas gas plant in Algeria, at the company's headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Ten Japanese workers were killed among the 37 hostages who died in the attack. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

TOKYO (AP) -- Seven survivors and the bodies of nine Japanese slain in a hostage crisis in Algeria returned to Tokyo on a government plane Friday.

The 16 individuals worked for a Yokohama-based engineering company, JGC Corp. at a natural gas plant in the Sahara that was seized by al-Qaida-linked militants last week.

TV footage showed Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the airport tarmac placing flowers on caskets that had been unloaded from the airplane. He and other government and company officials bowed as the caskets were driven away.

Algeria says at least 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed during four-day standoff at the Ain Amenas plant.

A solemn-looking Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed "deep sorrow" at a morning news conference and said Japan strongly condemned the terrorist actions.

Late Thursday, Japan said it had found the body of a 10th Japanese worker who had been missing. Six non-Japanese employees of JGC also were killed.

JGC President Koichi Kawana, who had gone to Algeria after the crisis and returned on Friday morning's flight, told a somber news conference the deaths were "extremely painful" for him. He and other company executives bowed to express their condolences.

Kawana said his staff believed that building energy plants contributed to the development of emerging economies such as Algeria. Because of the crisis, he said the company needs to think hard about how to continue to its work while ensuring the safety of their workers.

"This will become our top priority going forward," he said.