TOKYO // Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said late on Saturday that Japan was still working to free two hostages held by ISIL while calling a new online video about their fate “outrageous and unforgivable.”
The purported message claimed one of the Japanese hostages had been killed and demanded a prisoner exchange for the other. But the post was deleted quickly on Saturday, and militants on a website affiliated with ISIL disagreed about the message’s authenticity.
the Associated Press could not verify the contents of the message, which varied greatly from previous videos released by ISIL, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.
Citing the release of the photo purporting to show hostage Haruna Yukawa had been killed, Mr Abe said after a cabinet meeting: “Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and unforgivable. We feel strong resentment, and strongly condemn the act.”
Defense minister Gen Nakatani said officials were still working to verifying the video and a photo shown on it.
Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said US intelligence officials were working also to confirm whether it was authentic. “We stand in solidarity with Japan and are coordinating closely,” he said, and called for the immediate release of people held by ISIL.
Mr Abe said the government of Japan will not succumb to terrorism and will continue to cooperate with the international community in the fight against terrorism. He said Japan is still taking every possible step to win the release of both hostages and will continue the effort.
ISIL had threatened on Tuesday to behead the men within 72 hours unless it received a $200 million ransom.
Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of 47-year-old Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war. Japanese diplomats had left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the militants holding the hostages.
Mr Abe had a telephone call with Jordanian King Abullah II on Saturday, the state-run Petra news agency reported, without elaborating on what they discussed. He also called the two hostages' families.
One militant on an ISIL-affiliated website warned that Saturday’s new message was fake, while another said that the message was intended only to go to the Japanese journalist’s family.
A third militant on the website noted that the video was not issued by Al Furqan, which is one of the media arms of ISIL and has issued past videos involving hostages and beheadings. Saturday’s message did not bear Al Furqan’s logo.
Kyodo News agency reported that the same video has been emailed to the wife of one of the hostages.
Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom. Japan has joined other major industrial nations in opposing ransom payments. US and British officials said they advised against paying.
* Associated Press