(Bloomberg) — Islamic State militants threatened to kill two Japanese hostages just days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used a Middle East trip to pledge $200 million in non-military aid to nations confronted by the al-Qaeda breakaway group.
A video titled “Message to the government and people of Japan” shows a masked militant dressed in black with two hostages in orange tunics kneeling in what appears to be a desert. The man identified the hostages as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto Jogo, and said they would be killed within three days if Japan doesn’t pay ransom equivalent to the pledged aid.
“To the Japanese public: just as how your government has made a foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision by paying $200 million to save the lives of your citizens,” the masked militant said. “Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare.”
The ultimatum risks deepening Japan’s involvement in the fight against the militant group, which declared a so-called caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria in June. Islamic State has executed thousands of Iraqis and Syrians as well as international aid workers and journalists.
Abe told reporters in Jerusalem that the hostage situation was an unforgivable act of terrorism and said he would demand their immediate release. The pledged funds were to provide support to refugees and Japan would continue to provide non-military aid, he said.
“International society must not buckle to terrorism,” Abe said. The government has set up an emergency response room, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Goto was born in the northern Japanese city of Sendai in 1967, according to his Independent Press website. He specializes in coverage of wars, refugees, poverty and children’s education, according to the website set up in 1996.
A person with Goto’s name posted a message on Facebook in July last year looking for help getting a visa to travel to Baghdad.
Goto was due to return to Japan in October, but when he didn’t come back, his family notified the foreign ministry, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing an unidentified source.
NHK said that Goto later told his family he was going to help Yukawa, whom Kyodo News reported had been captured by Islamic State in northern Syria in August after arriving in the country to support rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Before his capture, Yukawa posted video purported to be from Iraq and Syria on his You Tube channel called Private Military Company. Over the past decade, his wife had died, he’d lost a business, and changed his name to Haruna to make it sound more feminine, Reuters reported in August.
Abe, in a speech in Cairo on Jan. 17, said the spread of terrorism in the Middle East threatens global stability.
“Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable,” he said.
The capture of the two Japanese citizens may complicate Abe’s push to loosen the pacifist shackles of the constitution to strengthen the nation’s defense, a policy opposed by the majority of the Japanese public.
Japan’s involvement exposes the greater risks in taking a higher profile in the fight against terrorism, Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, said by phone. “On a certain level, Abe would make the argument that this is all the more reason why Japan has to take part in the war against terrorism.”
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