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Japan in shock as IS group claims killing of Kenji Goto

AFP / Toru Yamana

The purported beheading of a second Japanese hostage by the Islamic State group has sparked outrage in Japan and around the world, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying Japan "will not give in" to terrorism.

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"We will never forgive the terrorists, and we will work with the international community to make sure they pay for their sins," Abe said.

Kenji Goto, 47, was a journalist covering the conflict in Syria who sought to convey the plight of refugees, children and other victims of war.

After convening an emergency Cabinet meeting, Abe told reporters: "I feel indignation over this immoral and heinous act of terrorism."

“When I think of the grief of his family, I am left speechless,” he said. “The government has been doing its utmost in responding to win his release, and we are filled with deep regret.”

Abe went on to say that Japan would continue to provide humanitarian aid to countries fighting the Islamic State extremists.

The defense minister, Gen Nakatani, said that the police had deemed the video of Goto’s killing “highly likely to be authentic”.

The White House released a statement in which US President Barack Obama also condemned “the heinous murder” and praised Goto’s reporting, saying he “courageously sought to convey the plight of the Syrian people to the outside world”.

The White House said it couldn't confirm the authenticity of the video but said it had confirmed that Goto has been slain.

The video was circulated via social media late Saturday by militant sympathisers.

Goto’s slaying shocked the country, which has not been directly embroiled in the fight against the Islamists. The government has ordered heightened security at airports and at Japanese facilities overseas, such as embassies and schools, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.

“Kenji has died, and my heart is broken. Facing such a tragic death, I’m just speechless,” Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told reporters.

“I was hoping Kenji might be able to come home,” said Goto’s brother, Junichi Goto, in a separate interview. “I was hoping he would return and thank everyone for his rescue, but that’s impossible, and I’m bitterly disappointed.”

Haruna Yukawa, 42, was shown killed in an earlier video released by the militants. His father, Shoichi Yukawa, could not hold back his tears at the news of Goto's killing.

"He was kind. And he was brave,'' he told reporters.

According to his friends and family, Goto traveled to Syria in late October to try to save Yukawa, who was captured by the Islamic State group in August.

Fears for Jordanian pilot

The failure to save Goto has raised fears for the life of a Jordanian fighter pilot who is also being held hostage by the extremists. Unlike in earlier messages, which often threaten a next victim if demands are not met, the Islamic State group militant allegedly reponsible for beheading Goto did not mention the pilot.

The Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh, was captured in December when his F-16 crashed near a stronghold of the Islamic State group, which controls about a third of both Syria and neighbouring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.

Jordan this week offered to free an al Qaeda prisoner for the pilot but first demanded proof that he was still alive, evidence which it has yet to receive.

In Jordan late Saturday night, relatives and supporters of the pilot held a candlelit vigil inside a family home in Karak, al-Kaseasbeh’s hometown in southern Jordan.

We “decided to hold this protest to remind the Jordanian government of the issue of the imprisoned pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh”, said the pilot’s brother, Jawdat al-Kaseasbeh, holding a picture of Muath with a caption: “We are all Muath.”

Al-Kaseasbeh’s uncle, Yassin Rawashda, said the family just wants to be kept informed.

“We want to know how the negotiations are going ... in a positive direction or not. And we want the family to be [involved] in the course of negotiations,” he said.

In an online message earlier this week, the militants threatened to kill the pilot if 44-year-old Sajijda al-Rishawi wasn’t released by sunset on Thursday. That deadline passed, leaving the families of the pilot waiting to know his fate.

Jordan and Japan had reportedly conducted indirect negotiations with the militants through Iraqi tribal leaders, but late on Friday Japan’s deputy foreign minister reported a deadlock in those efforts.

The hostage drama began last week when the militants threatened to kill Goto and Yukawa within 72 hours unless Japan paid a ransom of $200 million.

Later, the militants’ demands shifted to seeking the release of al-Rishawi, who is facing death by hanging in Jordan for her role in triple hotel bombings in Amman in 2005. Sixty people were killed in those attacks, the worst terror attack in Jordan’s history.

Al-Rishawi has close family ties to the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda, a precursor of the Islamic State group.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

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