One of two Japanese IS hostages reportedly killed

Terrorist group demands release of female terrorist held in Jordan in exchange for remaining captive

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)

One of the two Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State terrorist group has reportedly been beheaded.

In a new video released Saturday, the jihadists offer to exchange the remaining hostage for a female terrorist held in Jordanian prison. Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi is accused of taking part in a 2005 suicide bombing in Amman, organized by al-Qaeda in Iraq, in which over 35 people were killed. Her suicide vest failed to detonate according to reports, and she survived the attack. Her husband was the second suicide bomber.

The video posted Saturday by IS-linked tweeps is different from previous beheading clips released by the group. In this particular one, the remaining hostage Kenji Goto Jogo is seen holding a photo of a beheaded Haruna Yukawa and no decapitation is shown on camera. In addition, an audio voice-over purporting to be Goto announces the beheading and the terrorists’ demand.

The Japanese government said Saturday that it was verifying the authenticity of the clip.  Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said late Saturday that Cabinet ministers were holding an emergency meeting about the new message, the release of which he condemned as unforgivable.

IS had demanded $200 million from the Japanese government for the release of the two. The deadline for the ransom expired on Friday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had convened his National Security Council Friday to discuss how to handle the expected deadline, but the status of efforts to free the two men remained unclear until Saturday.

On Friday, Junko Ishido, the mother of the 47-year-old journalist Goto, made a tearful appeal on his behalf.

“Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son’s life,” said Junko Ishido, who described herself as an educator. “My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State,” she said in a tearful appearance in Tokyo.

Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria to try to rescue the other hostage, 42-year-old Yukawa.

“My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance,” she said.

In very Japanese fashion, Ishido apologized repeatedly for “all the trouble my son has caused.”

Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan had scrambled for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war. Two Japanese who said they have contacts with a leader in the Islamic State group offered Thursday to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga reiterated Friday that Japan was trying all possible channels to reach those holding the hostages, and that its policy of providing humanitarian aid for those displaced by conflict in the Middle East was unchanged.

“We are doing our very best to coordinate with related parties, including through tribal chiefs,” Suga said.

Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, but said their lives were the top priority.

Japan has joined other major industrial nations of the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. US and British officials also said they advised against paying.

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