Japan says won’t pay hostage ransom to ISIS as deadline looms

Still from YouTube video/GO4FUN Footage
Japan will not pay a $200 million ransom for two of its citizens captured by the Islamic State, said PM Shinzo Abe.Tokyo has less than 24 hours left to respond to the jihadists’ threat to execute the Japanese nationals on Friday if the ransom is not paid.

Abe reiterated that he will stand by his country’s commitment not to pay ransoms while speaking on the phone with UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday, Kyodo news agency reported.

“The government is doing everything it can, and saving lives is the top priority,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga during a media conference in Tokyo on Thursday. However he added that the government had failed to contact the militants to negotiate the release.

On Tuesday, the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) terrorist group published a video on several extremist websites showing two Asian men wearing orange fatigues standing on their knees and a masked man in black holding a knife. The man said the militant group demanded a $200 million ransom to be paid for the hostage’s lives in 72 hours – the same amount of money Japan had pledged to pay to the US-led campaign against IS.

READ MORE: ISIS threatens to kill 2 Japanese hostages in 3 days unless $200mn ransom paid

At the time the video was released Abe was in Jerusalem as part of his Middle Eastern tour. He promptly replied to IS calling on the militants to release the hostages immediately and said that the ransom demand is “an unacceptable act of terrorism”.

“Japan will cooperate with the international community and further contribute to peace and stability in the region,” he said. “This policy is unshakable and we won’t change it.”

How two Japanese nationals fell into the hands of IS militants

The hostages were identified as Japanese nationals Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. The latter – a 42-year-old who had been posing as a private military contractor – was captured in August outside the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.

After he lost his wife to cancer, went bankrupt and was forced to live on the streets for a month, he attempted to kill himself, Reuters reported citing accounts of his associates and his own. Though he never actually worked as a military consultant, Yukawa hoped to provide security to Japanese companies in conflict areas. He had stated that a trip to Syria was supposed to change his life for the better.

Post by Haruna Yukawa.

“The hard times led to soul searching. By his own account, he had changed his name to the feminine-sounding Haruna, attempted to kill himself by cutting off his genitals and came to believe he was the reincarnation of a cross-dressing Manchu princess who had spied for Japan in World War Two,” a Reuters report from August 27 last year stated.

Kenji Goto is an independent journalist, who has been covering events including the civil war in Syria and worked as an operator for Japanese broadcasters, including NHK.

The pair met in Syria in April and Yukawa asked Goto to teach him how to operate in conflict zones, so they went to Iraq in June. Yukawa returned to Syria in July on his own, and the following month was abducted by jihadists, who released a video in August showing them pressing the Japanese man to the ground, in attempts to make him answer questions.

“He was hapless and didn't know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him,” Goto, told Reuters in Tokyo in August. In October he returned to Syria to search for his friend and to report on the conflict, according to his Twitter. In one of Goto’s last videos he stands in front of the Syrian border city of Kobani, besieged by Islamists.

The two Japanese men contribute to the ever-growing list of foreign hostages captured by IS militants in Syria and Iraq. Among them are US aid worker Peter Kassig executed in November 2014, UK aid worker Alan Henning murdered in October 2014, UK aid worker David Haines killed in September 2014 and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff slain in August 2014.

However, previously the demands were political in nature and the ransom was not publicly discussed in these cases.