TOKYO, April 10 (UPI) -- Japanese officials confirmed Sunday morning that they learned three Japanese civilians taken hostage by an Iraqi militant group will be released.
The reason for the dramatic turnaround from earlier threats to kill them is still not known, but it is understood that negotiations behind the scenes have been intense.
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shinzo Abe said on Japanese television the three will be released around noon Sunday Japan time, the Kyodo news service reported. The BBC reported the release would be around 3 a.m. GMT (11 p.m. EDT).
Japanese government sources said the three are reported safe. They were identified as Noriaki Imai, 18, a freelance writer from Sapporo; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photojournalist from Tokyo: and Nahoko Takato, 34, a volunteer worker from Chitose, Hokkaido.
The sources said the Japanese government was informed by a high-ranking Iraqi official about their safety and the timing of the trio's release.
Sunday had been the deadline kidnappers set for Japan to withdraw its troops from Iraq, threatening to kill the hostages if the Japanese government did not comply.
The three civilians were apparently taken prisoner while traveling overland from Amman to Baghdad.