MAKUHARI, CHIBA PREF. – The apparent death of the man known as “Jihadi John,” the public face of the self-styled Islamic State, may represent a kind of karma but it doesn’t bring closure for the father of one Japanese hostage beheaded nearly a year ago.
“It’s not to say that it was heaven’s punishment doing its work, but what you do to other people will come back to you,” Shoichi Yukawa said Saturday of the U.S. announcement that it was “reasonably certain” it had killed Kuwaiti-born Briton Mohammed Emwazi, described as the group’s “lead executioner.”
Yukawa, 75, speaking at his home an hour east of Tokyo, chose his words as he reflected on the death of the man who murdered his son, Haruna, who was apparently beheaded in January after several months in the hands of the Islamic State group in Syria.
“I’m not happy that he (Emwazi) was attacked, but I know that the Syrian civil war is a horrible thing and I want it to end as soon as possible,” the father said quietly.
“Of course I have hatred toward the murderers, but more than that I want the war to end.”
Yukawa was speaking just hours after Islamic State supporters said the group was responsible for Friday’s series of attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people and prompted France to declare a state of emergency.
News on Friday that Emwazi had apparently been blown up in a U.S. and British drone strike in the Syrian town of Raqqa brought relief mingled with fresh anguish to the loved ones of others he claimed to have killed.
The capture and apparent beheadings in late 2014 and early 2015 of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist friend who went into Syria in an attempt to save him, transfixed Japan, a country largely spared from militant attacks and the horrors now spilling out of Syria.
Emwazi appeared in videos with Haruna Yukawa and Goto, who were kneeling beside him dressed in orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the those worn by prisoners at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and in the final videos, a week apart, announcing their executions. Each victim’s body lay on the ground, its severed head placed on its back.
A picture of the two in happier times adorns the wide-screen TV in the living room of Yukawa’s tidy, two-story tatami-matted home. A framed picture of his son stands on a Buddhist altar, near the phone that Yukawa and his wife have left disconnected since their son’s abduction stoked a media maelstrom.
Haruna burst onto the public stage in a video of his capture and apparent beating by militants, who appeared to take the armed Japanese man, in black T-shirt and fatigues, as a mercenary.
According to Haruna’s online journal and his father’s comments at the time, however, the young man went to the Syrian city of Aleppo on a soul-searching journey.
He had recently lost his wife to cancer and seen his business go bust. He changed his name to the feminine-sounding Haruna, tried to kill himself by cutting off his genitals and came to believe that he was the reincarnation of a cross-dressing Manchu princess who had spied for Japan in World War II.
Shoichi Yukawa, sitting on the floor at a low Japanese table and dressed in a thick sweater, appears calmer now and with a healthier complexion than during the hostage ordeal. He even smiles when he starts speaking about current events.
But he becomes subdued as he begins reading a May entry in his handwritten diary, which expresses a very Japanese sense of shame for creating a what he calls a public nuisance.
“As the father of my son who has caused such a public commotion, I deeply feel a sense of moral responsibility,” he reads, wiping away the occasional tear welling up behind his wide-framed glasses.
“I sincerely want to thank everyone, starting from those in the government, who have done their best to help.”
Foreign Ministry officials dropped off Haruna’s duffle bag in March, two months after his execution. It took the father two more months to open it, finding his son’s clothes, passport, toiletries and notebook.
Shoichi put the belongings in cardboard boxes in the small room where Haruna’s other things are stored.
“This whole incident — it’s not over for me,” the father said as he looked at the boxes.