The gruesome video released Saturday by the Islamic State group has shocked the public into learning more about the complex politics of the Middle East and how they can affect the lives of fellow Japanese in an oil-rich region it depends on.
Four Middle East experts in Japan interviewed by The Japan Times all agreed Sunday that Jordan’s reaction will be vital in saving 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto, the latest person to be taken hostage by the Islamic State group.
In the static clip, the extremists claimed that private security contractor Haruna Yukawa, who was being held with Goto, had already been killed, and threatened to slay Goto unless Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, a female suicide bomber now imprisoned in Jordan, is released.
“Now the focus has moved to negotiations between Japan and Jordan. I don’t think Mr. Goto will be released” unless Jordan releases al-Rishawi, said Buntaro Kuroi, a military journalist familiar with Middle Eastern affairs.
“The Islamic State (group) is serious. If she is not released, Mr. Goto will face a very tough situation,” Kuroi said.
Fumikazu Nishitani, a freelance journalist who represents a nongovernmental group helping children in Iraq, argued that Jordan will encounter “very high” political hurdles if it decides to release al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto.
Al-Rishawi took part in a failed attack on a wedding party at the Amman Radisson Hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in 2005. She survived the attack when her explosive belt failed to go off. She and three male bombers attacked three hotels, reportedly killing 57 people.
At the time, Nishitani was in Amman to cover the suicide bombings as a journalist.
Those attacks outraged the Jordanians, so releasing the woman for a Japanese hostage will present a very tough decision for the Jordanian government, Nishitani said.
Jordan is desperately trying to save a young Jordanian Air Force pilot also being held by the Islamic Stage group, and releasing al-Rishawi in exchange was considered one potential option.
Releasing the woman for the sake of Mr. Goto alone would be “unacceptable” for Jordan, Nishitani pointed out.
A one-for-two hostage exchange — meaning the release of al-Rishawi in exchange for the pilot and Mr. Goto — could be a politically acceptable option for Jordan, Nishitani suggested.
Meanwhile, Osamu Miyata, who heads the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, said Jordanian King Abdullah and his close aides will likely be the ones who make the final decision if Japan requests the release of the bomber.
“The king has been very friendly toward Japan, and he has a (good) relationship with the Japanese Imperial family. He may give some consideration” to the overall Jordanian-Japanese relationship when he comes to make a decision, Miyata said.
With the apparent execution of Yukawa, the Islamic State group is probably trying to show how serious it is, Miyata said.
Meanwhile, Shuji Hosaka, a senior research fellow and assistant director of the JIME Center at the Institute of Energy Economics, said the hostage crisis doesn’t mean Japan is facing a new risk in the Middle East.
Rather, many Japanese simply haven’t realized existing threats of Islamic extremists there, he said.