IRAQ - SYRIA

IS group gives two Japanese hostages 72 hours to live

A screenshot shows Islamic State group fighters

An online video released Tuesday purported to show the Islamic State group threatening to kill two Japanese hostages unless they receive a $200 million ransom in the next 72 hours.

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The video, identified as being made by the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm and posted on militant websites associated with the extremist group, mirrored other hostage threats it has made.

The militant in it also directly addresses Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now on a six-day visit to the Middle East with more than 100 government officials and presidents of Japanese companies.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Abe vowed to save the hostages, identified by the extremists as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa. He called on the Islamic State group to immediately release the hostages

“Their lives are the top priority,” Abe said. He added: “Extremism and Islam are completely different things.”

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 kilometres (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.”

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.”

Two very different men

The two hostages have been identified as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto Jogo.

According to Japanese media, Yukawa was taken hostage in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo by IS at the beginning of August.

The Japan Times newspaper describes him as a “broken man” who had flirted with the Japanese far-right after the death of his wife and bankruptcy and had proclaimed himself a security consultant, although there is no evidence he had done any consultancy work.

FRANCE 24’s Wassim Nassir adds that Yakuwa had also “presented himself as a war photographer who had fought in the ranks of the free Syrian army as well as IS, which took him hostage in August”.

Jenji Goto, meanwhile, is an experienced freelance journalist who had created the Independent Press production company in Tokyo in 1996, which provides Middle Eastern video footage to the big Japanese TV channels.

Another Japanese journalist, Shamil Tsuneoka, has been trying to negotiate their release.

Tsuneoka told FRANCE 24’s Observers website in 2013 that he had been embedded with the IS group and notably had been in contact with a Sheikh Omar.

Tsuneoka told FRANCE 24’s Nassir that he had spent several days in Syria in September 2014 talking to the hostage takers, a job he undertook independently, he said, because of the Japanese government’s refusal to negotiate with the militants. He has heard nothing from them in three months.

First demand for cash

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. US 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 US-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.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)
 

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