Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said that the chilling recording claiming that Haruna Yukawa, one of two Japanese men taken hostage by Islamic State, had been beheaded appeared to be genuine.
Barack Obama issued a statement condemning what he called “the brutal murder” and that the United States would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Japan. The US president called for the immediate release of the second Japanese hostage, 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto.
In the brief tape a man claiming to be Goto says his “cellmate” is dead and pleads for his own life. Speaking in English with a Japanese accent, he says Isis has dropped its demand for a $100m ransom and instead wants to organise a prisoner exchange for a woman held in Jordan. The still image released with the tape shows Goto apparently holding a picture of Yukawa’s body.
The Japanese government had said on Saturday it was investigating the recording, which appeared quite different in format from the string of videos Isis produced to show the murders of other foreign hostages.
But Abe later said it was genuine, adding that he was left “speechless” by the killing.
Abe said that the release of the new message was “an outrageous and unforgivable act and called for the “immediate release” of Goto.
Speaking on NHK TV, Abe declined to comment on the possibility of a prisoner exchange for Goto, noting that the government was still working on the situation. He declined to elaborate, and reiterated that Japan strongly condemns terrorist acts.
Yukawa’s father, Shoichi, also faced Japanese media on Sunday and said he hoped “deep in his heart” that the news of his son’s killing was not true.
“If I am ever reunited with him, I just want to give him a big hug,” he said.
The prisoner whom Isis wants released is Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman who was sent on an al-Qaida bombing mission to Jordan in 2005 with her husband. They targeted a wedding in a hotel, and he killed at least 57 people, but she was caught after her suicide belt failed to detonate.
Japan’s deputy foreign minister, Yasuhide Nakayama, is in Jordan to try to coordinate rescue efforts. He was sent soon after the first video of the hostages surfaced, but in the hours before an arbitrary deadline for the ransom payment, Japanese officials admitted they had not been able to reach Isis representatives to start a dialogue.
Yukawa, 42, from Chiba prefecture near Tokyo, went to Syria last year after a series of personal misfortunes. Goto is a respected author and freelance journalist who ran a small media company, and went to cover the Syrian conflict.
On Tuesday the two men appeared together in a video released by Isis’s al-Furqan media outlet entitled “A message to the government at the people of Japan” that set a 72-hour deadline for the Japanese government to pay a $200m ransom, $100m for each hostage. It had a format similar to previous hostage videos, with the men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a hillside in a rocky desert, while a British-sounding militant standing between them issued demands.
Yukawa was originally detained in April in northern Syria by anti-government militant group the Free Syrian Army, and Goto, who was in the area, was brought as an interpreter for the group to interrogate him. He was captured again some time after 21 July, when his blog entries stopped. In August, Isis released a YouTube video showing him with a bleeding face and lying on the ground, identifying himself as Japanese and not a spy.
In early October Goto is understood to have travelled between Japan and Syria, arriving there again some time around 22 October. There has been speculation that he may have travelled to come to the aid of Yukawa.
This is not the first time Japan has faced a hostage crises from Islamic militants. In 2004, followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq beheaded a 24-year-old backpacker Shosei Koda. A video by Zarqawi’s group, which later became the Islamic State group, showed Koda begging Japan’s then-prime minister to save him.
At the time prime minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters: “I cannot allow terrorism and cannot bow to terrorism.” Koda’s body was found a few days later dumped in Baghdad.
David Cameron said the reported killing was “another reminder of the murderous barbarity of these terrorists.” The British prime minister said the UK “stands in solidarity with the Japanese people” and backed the “firm stance” taken by his counterpart in Tokyo.
Barack Obama said in a statement that was issued while he was en route to India: “Our condolences today are with the people of Japan for their terrible loss.”
“We renew our call for the immediate release of Kenji Goto and all other remaining hostages.”
Source: The Guardian