A video posted online late Saturday showed one of the two Japanese hostages seized by the Islamic State radical group holding an image of what appeared to be the corpse of the other. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the credibility of the video is “high,” indicating that the government believes that the hostage Haruna Yukawa, a private security contractor who has been detained by the radical group since last summer, has been murdered. We condemn this cold blooded and despicable act, and urge the government to explore all possible means for the rescue of the remaining hostage.
The video message stated that the group, which has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq in its violent quest to create an Islamic caliphate, was giving up its earlier demand that Japan pay $200 million in exchange for the lives of Yukawa and freelance journalist Kenji Goto. Its new condition for freeing Goto is the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a convicted female terrorist who is on death row in Jordan for her involvement in the 2005 suicide bombing attacks that killed 57 people in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
The new development in the hostage crisis, which came more than a day after the 72-hour deadline for the group’s initial ransom demand passed, does not make a solution any easier to reach. The demand for a swap with terrorist imprisoned in a third-party country still leaves the Japanese government in a bind given its position that it will not cave in to terrorist threats and will continue to participate in the fight against international terrorism.
Complicating matters are increasing calls in Jordan for Amman to swap al-Rishawi for Jordanian Air Force pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was captured by the Islamic State group in December after being shot down while participating in U.S.-led coalition attacks against the extremists.
Speaking Sunday on NHK TV, Abe reiterated that Japan would continue its efforts to free Goto, but would not give in to terrorism. He declined to comment when asked if he would ask Amman to release al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto, saying only that the government would cooperate closely with Jordan to handle the situation.
Since the hostage crisis unfolded last week, the government has reportedly explored channels of contacting the kidnappers of the hostages without success, while seeking cooperation from other countries including Turkey, which succeeded in securing the release of 49 Turkish nationals held by the group in a reported prisoner swap.
In recent months, air strikes conducted by the coalition have taken an increasing toll on the Islamic State group. In referring to the amount of aid pledged by Prime Minister Abe to Mideast countries battling the extremist organization — such as aid to help refugees dislocated by the conflicts in the region, the Islamic State group stated that it viewed Japan as part of the international coalition, even though Tokyo is not making any contributions to the coalition’s military operations.
In issuing the death threats against the hostages last week, the Islamic State group argued 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).” The Japanese government’s efforts to rebut this claim has had no apparent effect.
Given the humanitarian nature of the aid that Japan has offered to the countries in the region, the Islamic State group’s claim is groundless. Still, as long as Japan takes part — even through nonmilitary means — in the fight against threats to international security, we must be on guard against terrorist elements who seek to target the nation and its citizens.