Two internal factions of the Islamic State extremist group had been vying for Japanese hostages to attain their own aims, sending out snarled messages to make it difficult for the Japanese government to find out ways to save their lives, sources said Monday.
The Japanese government obtained foreign intelligence on a leadership struggle within the militant group during the hostage crisis, in which the Japanese captives — Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto — were eventually beheaded, the sources said.
A Syrian faction was responsible for taking the two men and posting a video online on Jan. 20 threatening to kill them unless the Japanese government paid a ransom of $200 million, according to the sources.
But after the Japanese government rejected the payment, another faction led by Iraqi members apparently took control away from the Syrian rival over the hostages, because a voice message posted on Jan. 24 abruptly demanded the release of an attempted Iraqi suicide bomber on death row in Jordan in exchange for the life of Goto without mentioning the ransom demand, the sources said.
A still image accompanying the voice recording showed Goto holding a picture of what appeared to be the beheaded body of Yukawa.
The message can be taken as one sent out by the Iraqi group also because the quality of the image is poorer than that in the first posting, the sources said, adding the quality of images attached to subsequent voice messages setting conditions for the exchange of the death-row inmate, Sajida al-Rishawi, for Goto was similarly bad.
But after the Iraqi team failed to make the one-for-one swap deal with Jordan, the Syrian faction regained the control and claimed in its online posting Sunday the execution of Goto, a move that is designed to highlight its intent to pose a threat to the rest of the world, the sources said.
As for Arab media reports last week that the Islamic State group might release Goto as part of a hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal that might involve as many as four people, including the freelance Japanese journalist with the Middle Eastern nation, the sources pointed to the possibility that tips were provided only by the Iraqi faction side, which was sticking to the aim of rescuing imprisoned members, the sources said.
“We had received various kinds of information, but there was nothing we could confirm,” a Japanese government official said.