Abe vows to save Japanese hostages

Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to save two hostages who are being held by Islamic State (IS).

The extremist group threatened to kill two Japanese hostages within 72 hours, demanding a 200 million US dollar (£132 million) ransom in a video posted online yesterday that showed a knife-brandishing masked militant standing over the two kneeling captives.

But with his military only operating in a self-defence capacity at home, Mr Abe faces a hard choice – o penly pay the extremists or ask an ally like the US to attempt a risky rescue inside Syria.

The video, released via militant websites associated with IS, mirrored other hostage threats the extremists have made.

In it, the captives, 47-year-old Kenji Goto and 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, were shown in orange jumpsuits with a rocky hill in the background, a black-clad militant standing between them.

The scene resembles others featuring five hostages previously beheaded by IS, which controls a third of Iraq and Syria.

Speaking in English with a British accent, the militant demanded 200 million US dollars for the men’s release.

He appeared to link the ransom to a pledge Mr Abe made on Saturday of non-military aid to help the government of Iraq and to assist Syrian refugees who have fled the Islamic State’s brutality.

“To the prime minister of Japan … you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade,” said the masked man, who looked and sounded like the militant shown in other filmed beheadings.

“And to the Japanese public: Just as your government has made the foolish decision to pay 200 million dollars to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision, by paying the 200 million dollars to save the lives of your citizens.

“Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare.

Japanese officials said they would analyse the video to verify its authenticity, though Mr Abe offered no hesitation as he pledged to free the men.

“Their lives are the top priority,” the Japanese leader told journalists in Jerusalem as he wrapped up a six-day visit to the Middle East.

“Extremism and Islam are completely different things.”

Mr Abe declined to say whether they would pay a ransom, though he sent his deputy foreign minister, Yasuhide Nakayama, to Jordan to seek the country’s support in resolving the hostage crisis.

The two Japanese hostages said nothing during the video.

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

Mr Yukawa, the founder of a private security company, was kidnapped in Syria in August after going there to train with militants, according to a post on a blog he kept.

Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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