Despite an unusual lull that had raised hopes hostage Kenji Goto might be freed, many in Japan were shocked Sunday to learn the Islamic State group had apparently executed him.
In a new video posted online early in the morning, the same masked man seen in previous Islamic State hostage videos is shown standing next to Goto, who is kneeling in an orange jumpsuit.
Brandishing a knife and speaking in his familiar British-accented English, he says: “To the Japanese government. You, like your foolish allies in the satanic coalition, have yet to understand that we, by Allah’s grace, are a large Islamic caliphate with authority and power and an entire army thirsty for your blood.
“Abe, because of your decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji but will carry on and also cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
After apparently calling out Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the man applies the knife to Goto’s throat before the video fades to black and shows an image of the journalist’s head resting on his decapitated body.
Repeating that Japan “will never give in to terrorism,” Abe condemned the extremists for the “heartbreaking pain” of Goto’s death and said they would never be tolerated.
“I will work with the international community to have them pay for their crimes,” he said.
“I will take thorough measures to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens inside and outside Japan,” he added.
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said the video appeared to be authentic.
Speaking at the prime minister’s office, Nakatani told reporters that a report from Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said it “is highly likely (the images) are of Goto himself.”
“We must pay attention to the safety of Japanese nationals, including those staying overseas,” he warned.
“We will further step up measures to secure their safety and at the same time need to cooperate with the efforts of the international society to prevent terrorist acts like this,” Nakatani said.
Earlier, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held a news conference in which he denounced both the video and the militant group.
“We feel even stronger indignation after such an inhuman, despicable act was committed,” Suga said. “We again resolutely condemn this.”
The Islamic State group had said Goto, 47, was being held along with Jordanian Air Force pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh. But there was no word on the fate of the captured pilot.
Abe thanked the “leaders of the world and friends of Japan,” who worked to try to save the two hostages. The other was Haruna Yukawa, who is believed to have been killed by the group on or before Jan. 24.
The prime minister offered thanks, in particular, to Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who is still struggling to free al-Kaseasbeh, who was captured after his F-16 fighter jet was shot down over Syria in December. He has become a bargaining chip for an imprisoned suicide bomber in Jordan.
“(The king) gave us full support. On behalf of the (Japanese) nation, I’d like to thank him,” Abe said.
Later Sunday, Arab ambassadors to Japan jointly denounced the murder and expressed their condolences to Goto’s family.
Waleed Siam, head of the Council of Arab Ambassadors to Japan and the representative of the Permanent General Mission of Palestine, told Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during a visit to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo that the council condemns the “despicable” act by the Islamic extremists, which killed an “innocent Japanese citizen,” in the “strongest possible form.”
Efforts to win the release of Goto and the pilot had focused on the possible release of the failed Iraqi suicide bomber, who was imprisoned by Jordan 10 years ago. The video uploaded on Sunday did not mention the pilot.
Abe, whom the extremists blamed for supporting their enemies with nonlethal aid, said Japan would continue to expand such efforts as food and medical assistance, to countries in the Middle East.
The hostage crisis began on Jan. 20, when the extremist group posted its first video showing a masked man, known colloquially as “Jihadi John,” threatening to kill Goto and Yukawa. He claimed that Japan had joined a “crusade” against the Islamic State group and demanded a $200 million ransom for the pair — the same amount Abe had recently pledged in nonmilitary aid to help countries “contending with” the Islamic State group.
Later, the jihadi group dropped its demand for money and instead demanded that Jordan release the Iraqi bomber, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for Goto.
Jordan had said it was ready to release the woman for al-Kaseasbeh, the pilot. Amman also indicated that it had demanded that Goto be released with him in a proposed swap.
The talks between Jordan and the Islamic State group had been deadlocked Saturday after the extremists refused to provide proof the pilot was alive.
Goto, who worked independently, began reporting on Syria and its people four years ago, when the country’s civil war broke out. He went missing in mid-October in Syria’s north after entering from Turkey, reportedly to look for Yukawa, a self-styled military contractor who had purportedly been captured by the Islamic State group in August.