Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to save the men, stating that, “Their lives are the top priority.”
The two men in the video have been identified as freelance journalist Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, who is described as the owner of a private military company according to his Facebook page.
As far back as August 2014, videos of at least one of the hostages have appeared online. One video shows Haruna Yukawa being interrogated by Islamic State militants. This most recent video has been identified as being made by ISIS’s al-Furqan media arm and has been posted onto websites associated with the group.
There has been no word whether the Japanese government will be making the payment to save the mens’ lives.
In the video, the knife-brandishing militant accuses Japan of voluntarily funding the military efforts against the group. “You have proudly donated $100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims … and in an attempt to stop the expansion of the Islamic State, you have also donated another $100 million to train the (apostates),” the masked man said.
Yukawa, 42, was kidnapped in Syria after going to train with militants. Pictures on his Facebook page show him in Iraq and Syria in July. A video on his page shows him holding an assault rifle with “Syria war in Aleppo 2014” as the caption.
Goto, 47, is a freeelance journalist who went to Syria to report on the civil war, according to Miki Ebara, NHK World’s editor in chief, who confirmed this in an interview with CBC.
“He speaks to local people, how they feel about their life, how they suffer, how women suffer in the conflicts,” she said. “His reports are always very, very moving for viewers.”
Goto went missing shortly after leaving Japan in late October. Ebara said she was shocked to see the video, but relived to know he was alive.
Journalists have been targeted by the militant group in the past. In 2012, American journalist James Foley was kidnapped in northwestern Syria while working as a freelance reporter. In August 2014, he was beheaded on video in response to airstrikes in Iraq. He was the first American citizen killed by the Islamic State of Iraq.
Other journalists like American-Israeli journalist Steve Sotloff and British journalist John Cantlie have also be killed by the militant group. And over the last 12 months, more than 17 Iraqi journalists have been executed by the group including Raad Mohamed al-Azaoui who was under threat for not cooperating with group.
This latest video shows the two Japanese men in orange jump suits like many of the other hostages held by ISIS. The militant in the video resembles and sounds like a British militant who has appeared in previous videos.
“I feel angry about it,” Abe said. “I strongly urge them to immediately release the hostages without harming them.”
According to CNN, ISIS has asked for ransoms before and has had them pain, but rarely are the demands made public.
The $200 million asked by the hostage takers equals the amount Japan has pledged to help forces contend with ISIS. With the 72 hour deadline made public, the world waits until sometime Friday to see if the ransom is paid and the hostages are released.
**Updated, January 23**
The Japanese government “have not been contacted” by Islamic State militants, according to Japanese officials. Now that the 72-hour deadline mentioned in the video has passed, Japanese officials are trying all possible avenues to reach the hostages.
“We are getting a lot of information,” Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary to a press corps, said.
Early Friday in Japan, Junko Ishido, mother of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, gave a press conference in Tokyo. “Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son’s life,” she pleaded as she repeatedly apologized for “all the trouble.”
At the press conference, she said that her son had left behind a two-week-old baby to save fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa.
“My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend. That was very important to him,” Ishido said.
She said that he son has always been a gentle person and hopes that he will be returned home safely.
**Updated, January 24**
A video posted online purportedly said Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa had been killed and demanded a prisoner exchange for captive, journalist Kenji Goto.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who appeared visibly shaken, called the video, “outrageous and unforgivable.” He called for the immediate release of the other captive, but government officials have not been able to verify whether the video and images that have appeared online are authentic.
In the tape, a man claiming to be Kenji Goto, said that his fellow “cellmate” is dead and pleads for his own life. He said that his hostage takers have dropped down the price for his release to $100 including the exchange of a female prisoner in Jordan. The video has since been taken down. In the video, Goto was shown holding a photo that is supposedly the body of Haruna Yukawa.
The video was reportedly sent to Goto’s wife, Kyodo News agency has discovered. In an interview with NHK, Junko Ishido, Goto’s mother, said she was skeptical that the voice in the video belongs to her son.
“Kenji’s English is very good. He should sound more fluent,” she said.
Confusion over the video’s authenticity has both Japanese and ISIS representatives scrambling for answers. Comments on several ISIS-affiliated websites have claimed that the new video was produced by the al-Furuan media arm of the group due mostly to the lack of a logo used in previous videos.
**Updated January 24**
Japan’s prime minister has said that the video appears to be authentic and it is feared that Haruna Yukawa is dead.
The video placed online and sent via email to captive Kenji Goto’s wife, shows Goto holding photographic evidence of Yukawa’s execution. An image, which appears to show Yukawa’s remains, has been circulating online and appears to confirm the captive’s death.
In the video, Goto said that the $200 million (USD) ransom that was set on Tuesday has now changed. ISIS is now demanding $100 million (USD) and the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a militant Iraqi currently being held in Jordan. In an interview, Abe told NHK that he has spoken to Jordan’s King Abdullah, but had no comment on the results of the talk.
Japanese officials have had little to say about how they will continue talks with the militant group holding Kenji Goto.
United States President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that the United States stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Japan. British Prime Minister David Cameron called the acts barbaric and said he stands in solidarity with the country.
Jordanian officials are working with ISIS on a prisoner swap with Sajida al-Rishawi, who killed 60 people in a bombing in 2005, being exchanged for Moaz al-Kassabeh, a Jordanian pilot who was captured by the militant group in December.
The decision to swap the two people came as a surprise as Jordan’s has a hardline stance against Islamic militants and will also set a precedence for negotiating with ISIS; however, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani did not mentioned whether the swap is set in stone and if Kenji Goto is included in the exchange.
The families of al-Kassabeh and Goto have appealed to their leaders in hopes that their respective governments will do everything they can to secure the release of their family members.
Some news outlets are reporting that Japan and ISIS have agreed on an exchange for Goto, but without confirmation the fate of the journalist remains dubious.
Featured image: Still from a video published by ISIS that shows the two Japanese hostages