Japan PM in Jerusalem demands release of Islamic State hostages
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Japan PM in Jerusalem demands release of Islamic State hostages

Shinzo Abe says lives of two captive Japanese ‘top priority’ after video emerges demanding $200 million ransom

A masked Islamic State fighter speaks during a ransom video demanding $200 million for the release of two Japanese citizens. (screen capture: YouTube)
A masked Islamic State fighter speaks during a ransom video demanding $200 million for the release of two Japanese citizens. (screen capture: YouTube)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanded Tuesday that the Islamic State group immediately free two Japanese hostages unharmed after the jihadists posted a video threat to kill them.

“I strongly demand that they not be harmed and that they be immediately released,” he said at a news conference during a visit to Jerusalem. “I am extremely indignant at such an act.”

“Their lives are the top priority,” he said.

Earlier in the day the radical Islamist group controlling large swaths of Syria and Iraq released a video demanding $200 million in ransom money for the lives of two Japanese hostages it claims to have.

In the video, the two men appear in orange jumpsuits like other hostages previously killed by the Islamic State group, which controls a third of Iraq and Syria.

“To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,000 and 500 kilometers (5,280 miles) from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade,” says the knife-brandishing militant in the video, who resembles and sounds like a British militant involved in other filmed beheadings. “You have proudly donated $100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe (left), January 18, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe (left), January 18, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Japan’s Foreign Ministry’s anti-terrorism section has seen the video and analysts are assessing it, a ministry official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of department rules.

Speaking in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to say whether Japan would pay the ransom.

“If true, the act of threat in exchange of people’s lives is unforgivable and we feel strong indignation,” Suga told journalists. “We will make our utmost effort to win their release as soon as possible.”

However, he said Tokyo would not give in to “terrorism.”

“Our country’s stance — contributing to the fight against terrorism without giving in — remains unchanged,” Suga said.

In August, a Japanese citizen believed to be Yukawa, a private military company operator in his early 40s, was kidnapped in Syria after going there to train with militants, according to a post on a blog kept. Pictures on his Facebook page show him in Iraq and Syria in July. One video on his page showed him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle with the caption: “Syria war in Aleppo 2014.”

“I cannot identify the destination,” Yukawa wrote in his last blog post. “But the next one could be the most dangerous.” He added: “I hope to film my fighting scenes during an upcoming visit.”

Yukawa’s father, Shoichi, who lives in Chiba, just outside Tokyo, could only tell Japanese public television station NKH that “I’m very confused” upon hearing the news.

Goto is a respected Japanese freelance journalist who went to report on Syria’s civil war last year and knew of Yukawa.

“I’m in Syria for reporting,” he wrote in an email to an Associated Press journalist in October. “I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.”

The Islamic State group has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated its mass killings in extremely graphic videos. A British-accented jihadi also has appeared in the beheading videos of slain American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and with British hostages David Haines and Alan Henning.

The group also holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in other extremist propaganda videos, and a 26-year-old American woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. U.S. officials have asked that the woman not be identified out of fears for her safety.

Tuesday’s video marks the first time the Islamic State group specifically has demanded cash for hostages. Though the militant in the video links it to the Japanese funding efforts to counter the Islamic State group, it comes amid recent losses for the extremists targeted in airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. Its militants also recently released some 200 mostly elderly Yazidi hostages in Iraq, fueling speculation by Iraqi officials that the group couldn’t support them.

This is Abe’s second Mideast hostage crisis since becoming prime minister. Two years ago, al-Qaeda-affiliated militants attacked an Algerian natural gas plant and the ensuing four-day hostage crisis killed 29 insurgents and 37 foreigners, including 10 Japanese who were working for a Yokohama-based engineering company, JCG Corp. Seven Japanese survived.

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