TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called the killing of a Japanese captive by Islamic State militants “outrageous” and again demanded the group release a second Japanese national they are holding.
Abe, speaking to public broadcaster NHK, said chances were high that a recording and an image of what appeared to be the decapitated body of captive Haruna Yukawa, which emerged late on Saturday, were authentic.
The Japanese leader called for the immediate release of the remaining Japanese captive, veteran war correspondent Kenji Goto, and said saving Goto’s life was a top priority. But he reiterated that Japan would not give in to terrorism.
“Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible, which causes me nothing but strong indignation,” Abe said.
“Again, I strongly demand that Mr Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released.”
The escalation of the hostage crisis has become a test for Abe, who took power in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan’s global security role.
On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video showing Goto and Yukawa kneeling with a knife-wielding, masked man demanding a $200 million ransom for their release. A 72-hour deadline for that payment expired on Friday.
In the latest recording, Goto says Yukawa was “slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate.”
But the journalist said the Japanese government could save him by working through Jordan where Abe earlier this week set up an office to coordinate the government’s response to the hostage situation.
Goto says the militants would free him in exchange for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi held in Jordan, and that the militants have dropped the ransom demand.
“I am filled with disappointment, that it has finally come to this,” Yukawa’s father, Shoichi, told NHK. “I feel pained, that he (Goto) risked his life out of concern (for my son) and ended up being captured. I hope he can be released as soon as possible, and return to Japan to continue his activities.”
Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told NHK, “First of all I wish it weren’t true, that it’s some mistake. I’m a mother so it’s unbearable. What I want to tell Islamic State is that Kenji’s ideal is world peace.” She was later quoted by Kyodo news agency as doubting her son would seek a prisoner exchange.
Abe told NHK he had spoken to Jordan’s King Abdullah about the situation, but he had no comment on the Islamic State demand for the release of al-Rishawi.
US President Barack Obama condemned Yukawa’s “brutal murder” in a statement released by the White House, and later called Abe to express his condolences and thank him for the humanitarian aid Japan has provided to the Middle East.
French President Francois Hollande in a statement also condemned what he called the “barbaric killing,” while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has forged closer security ties with Japan, called it an “absolute atrocity”.
“All this means is it’s more important than ever to do everything we can to disrupt and degrade the death cult,” Abbott added in a statement from Canberra.
Yukawa, 42, was seized by militants in August after going to Syria to launch a security company.
Goto, 47, went into Syria in late October seeking to secure Yukawa’s release, according to friends and business associates.
The new recording, released on YouTube late on Saturday before being deleted, showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt with audio of what appeared to be him making a statement in English.