The safety of the two Japanese men held hostage by the Islamic State group remained unknown after the 72-hour deadline set by the group for the Japanese government to pay $200 million in ransom in exchange for their lives passed on Friday. All-out efforts must continue to achieve their release. The extremist militant group should realize the folly of its actions and promptly release the two men.
There is no legitimacy in the acts of the group, which has threatened to kill Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a private security contractor, if Japan fails to pay the ransom. In a video posted Tuesday on websites associated with the Islamic State, a masked man brandishing a knife and standing between the two kneeling hostages stated that Japan had “volunteered to take part in this crusade” against the group when it “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).”
Islamic State, however, has the facts completely wrong. As the government has emphasized, Japan’s $200 million aid to countries involved in conflict with the Islamic State, pledged by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his Mideast tour, will be used for humanitarian aid to help refugees in Syria and Iraq dislocated by conflicts in the region — not on the military operations against the extremist group.
Regardless of the facts, though, any attempt by Islamic State to achieve its goals through kidnappings and death threats is unjustifiable, no matter what the purported cause might be.
Yukawa, from Chiba, was reportedly kidnapped by the group last August after going to Syria to train with militants, while Goto, a respected journalist known for his coverage of the consequences of conflicts on people, especially children, is believed to have been seized after he entered Syria in October to cover the civil war there. There have been reports that Goto went to Islamic State-controlled areas to search for Yukawa, whom he knew. The demand for their ransom was obviously timed for Abe’s trip, which took him to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the pledge of Japanese aid to the region.
The Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq in its violent quest to create an Islamic caliphate, has been suffering losses from airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. It is speculated that by targeting Japan, which is not a party to the military operations, the extremist group hopes to divide international support for actions against the militants.
The hostage crisis should not deter Japan in its efforts to contribute to the global fight against terrorism in its own, nonmilitary ways. It is only natural that Abe — while emphasizing that saving the lives of the hostages would be the government’s top priority — stressed that the international community must not cave in to threats of terrorism.
What’s also needed in Japan is an increased awareness that the country and its people are no longer immune from acts of international terrorism. The warped logic behind Islamic State’s demand for ransom suggests that an appeal to reason — by emphasizing, for example, the humanitarian nature of Japan’s aid to Middle Eastern countries — does not eliminate the danger of the nation and its citizens being targeted. The government, businesses and people need to be on guard, particularly against attacks on Japanese nationals overseas.
That does not mean that the focus of Japan’s efforts toward international security should change. Japan has earned the respect of many people in the Middle East for its post-World War II era pacifist policies. Humanitarian and economic aid to help eradicate poverty and improve medical and education systems contribute to alleviating societal conditions that sow the seeds of militant extremism. Japan can and should continue to contribute to the fight against terrorism in this way.