After the Islamic State group reportedly confirmed via radio that it had killed Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, both Japan and Jordan were saying little Monday about how they might respond to its demand that a suicide bomber jailed in Jordan be exchanged for the second hostage, Kenji Goto.
But officials from both sides were believed to be in talks on the sensitive matter.
At a morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga dodged a question on whether Tokyo has asked Jordan to release Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, one of four bombers who struck three hotels in Amman in 2005, killing 57 people.
Suga responded as expected.
“The government, putting the top priority on human life, is making its utmost efforts by using all channels available, ranging from the Jordanian government (to) related countries and various organizations.”
The 2005 attacks enraged Jordan and prompted it to take a tougher line on armed Islamic extremists. Experts believe it would be difficult for Jordan to release al-Rishawi for the Japanese hostage alone.
On Saturday, The Jordan Times, an English-language daily, had quoted “a well-informed security source” as telling the paper that Jordanian authorities were trying to determine the authenticity of the video apparently released by the Islamic State group late Saturday night Japan time.
“We will issue a statement then to keep the public abreast of all developments,” the paper quoted the source as saying.
As of Monday evening, the Jordanian government had released no such statement.
The video showed a still image of Goto, an independent journalist, holding a picture of what appeared to be the decapitated body of Yukawa, a self-styled security contractor.
On Sunday night Japan time, the Islamic State group said on Al-Bayan radio, a channel it runs, that it had killed Yukawa. It was the group’s first public statement on the matter since the video emerged Saturday.
“The Islamic State has carried out its threat . . . it has executed Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa after the expiry of the deadline given,” the group was quoted by news agency AFP as saying.
“The second hostage is calling on his relatives to put pressure on the (Japanese) government for the release of our sister Sajida al-Rishawi, held in the jails of the oppressors in Jordan, in exchange for his release,” the group said.
Asked to comment on the report, Suga would only say Tokyo believes that the radio station represents the Islamic State group.
“We are not in a position to make any judgments on the criminal declaration” Suga said.
Since the crisis began last Tuesday, Suga and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been repeating a contradictory mantra: Japan “will not give in to terrorism” but “human life is the top priority.”
The phrases are apparently a deliberate effort to keep listeners in the dark on whether Japan will actually meet the extremists’ demands.
The situation is complicated because Jordan has been trying to secure the release of air force pilot Muath Kasasbeh, who was taken hostage by the group last year when his plane crashed in Syria. The suicide bomber was considered a bargaining chip for the pilot.
On Monday, the on-line version of The Jordan Times quoted Mamoun Abu Nuwar, a military expert, as saying Jordan might negotiate for the release of both Kasasbeh and Goto together in exchange for al-Rishawi.
Amman last year released Libyan Mohammad Dersi, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to bomb Queen Alia International Airport in 2006, as part of a swap for Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, Fawaz Aitan.
“Jordan is now holding (al-Rishawi), who caused an incident that is really intolerable for Jordan; while Islamic State is holding the Jordanian pilot as hostage,” said Fumikazu Nishitani, a Japanese journalist familiar with Jordanian affairs.
He said the Jordanians would not accept the government releasing al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto alone.
Meanwhile, Japanese media have reported that Goto’s audio message was emailed to his wife on Saturday morning, hours before its release on the Internet at around 11 p.m. the same day.
Kyodo News reported that officials learned of and watched the recording sent to the email account, but kept its existence secret.
Suga denied this.
Kyodo News reported that the email address used to send the recording had also been used to send around 10 messages to Goto’s wife since November.
The government tried contacting the group using it. Analyses by European and U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the email address bears a resemblance to an address the group used in previous hostage incidents, Kyodo said.
Suga also said the government has more or less concluded the voice of the person speaking on the video released Saturday is probably that of Goto, based on scientific analysis.
“The possibility is high,” Suga said.
Private voiceprint experts interviewed by The Japan Times were mixed on the government’s conclusions.