The Abe administration on Tuesday announced a fresh $15.5 million aid package to fight terrorism in the Middle East and Africa, a gesture seen as underscoring its resolve to take a larger role in international affairs following the recent beheading of Japanese hostages at the hands of Islamic State militants.
The amount doubles the $7.5 million in assistance that Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida pledged during a visit to Brussels in January.
Kishida said in a statement that the aid was part of Japan’s effort to support “counterterrorism capacity-building assistance in the Middle East/Africa,” including border control and the development of legal systems.
Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama is expected to flesh out further details related to the aid package when he attends a global counterterrorism conference later this week in Washington, ministry officials said.
The announcement comes weeks after Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a self-styled security contractor, were beheaded by extremists from the Islamic State group, whose fighters control vast tracts of land straddling Syria and Iraq.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come in for criticism over the timing of an earlier $200 million pledge to help refugees fleeing Islamic State-controlled areas.
Abe announced the funding in Egypt on Jan. 17, saying Japan would “help curb the threat” of Islamic State and give the money “for those countries contending with” the militants.
Days later a video emerged in which a masked and British-accented militant demanded an identical sum as a ransom for the life of the two Japanese hostages.
Over the following tense weeks, Abe repeatedly said that Japan would not “give in to terrorism.”
After murdering Yukawa, the militants altered their demands, requesting the release of death row inmate and would be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from a Jordanian prison.
Tokyo pressed Jordan for its help in securing the release of Goto, but he was later murdered by the group.
His death was followed by the release of a video showing the immolation of Jordanian Air Force pilot Mu’ath al-Kasaesbeh, who was seized by the group after his plane came down in Islamic State-controlled territory. Al-Kaseasbeh had become entangled in the bargaining between Japan, Jordan and the Islamic State despite speculation that he had already been killed by the time negotiations began.
Kishida said that Japan will increase people-to-people exchanges with the Middle East, including by inviting regional leaders to Japan.
Japan will also boost cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the fight against terrorism, he said.
The Abe administration hopes that the announcement of additional assistance will demonstrate its commitment to the region. Officials said the money will be distributed through international organizations to affected areas, including countries bordering Syria and Iraq.