BEIRUT (AFP) -The Islamic State (IS) group threatened to kill two Japanese hostages unless it receives a $200 million ransom within 72 hours, but Tokyo vowed Tuesday it would not give in to “terrorism”.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was in Jerusalem on the latest leg of a Middle East tour, demanded that the extremists immediately free the two hostages unharmed.
He was to fly home after an early afternoon summit with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to take charge of the crisis, cutting short the rest of his tour.
IS has murdered five Western hostages since August last year, but it is the first time that the extremist group – which has seized swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq – has threatened Japanese captives.
In footage posted on extremist websites, a black-clad militant brandishing a knife addresses the camera in English, standing between hostages Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa who are wearing orange jumpsuits.
“You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens,” he says.
The militant says that the ransom demand is to compensate for non-military aid that the Japanese prime minister pledged to support countries affected by IS violence at the start of his Middle East tour.
But Abe said Japan would not bow to extremism and pledged to honour his promise of aid to IS-hit countries. “I strongly demand that they not be harmed and that they be immediately released,” he told a news conference in Jerusalem. “The international community will not give in to terrorism and we have to make sure that we work together.”
Abe said the promised aid was to help the displaced and those made homeless by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. “This posture will not change at all,” he said.
Abe pledged a total of $2.5 billion in humanitarian and development aid for the Middle East.
He promised $200 million in non-military assistance for countries affected by IS’s bloody expansion in Iraq and Syria, which spurred an exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries.
Since August, IS has murdered three Americans and two Britons, posting grisly video footage of their executions. US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American aid worker Peter Kassig and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines were all beheaded.
The militant who appeared in the video threatening the Japanese hostages spoke with a similar southern English accent to the militant in the footage posted of the executions of the Britons and Americans.
Goto is a freelance journalist who set up a video production company, named Independent Press in Tokyo in 1996, feeding video documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks, including public broadcaster NHK. He was born in Sendai in Miyagi prefecture in 1967, according to the company’s website.
The other hostage appeared in previous footage posted last August in which he identified himself as Haruna Yukawa and was shown being interrogated by his captors.
Another online video that appeared at the time showed a man believed to be Yukawa test-firing an AK-47 assault rifle in Syria.
The same video could be seen on the website of Tokyo-based private military firm PMC, which listed Yukawa as its chief executive.
Calls to the firm at the time went unanswered and it was unclear if the company had other employees. Its website said the firm has branch offices in “Turkey, Syria, Africa”.
Japanese nationals’ involvement as combatants in foreign conflicts is limited, although the country’s extensive media is usually well-represented in hotspots.
Japan has been relatively isolated from the violence that has hit other developed countries, having stayed away from US-led military interventions.