TOKYO (AP) — Militants affiliated with the Islamic State group have posted an online warning that the “countdown has begun” for the group to kill a pair of Japanese hostages.
The posting which appeared Friday shows a clock counting down to zero along with gruesome images of other hostages who have been beheaded by the Islamic State group.
The militant group gave Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a 72-hour deadline — which expired Friday — to pay a $200 million ransom for the two hostages. The posting on a forum popular among Islamic State militants and sympathisers did not show any images of the Japanese hostages.
In the past the website has posted Islamic State videos very quickly, sometimes before anyone else. Nippon Television Network first reported the message in Japan.
The status of efforts to free the two men was unclear. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, when asked about the latest message, said Japan was analysing it.
“The situation remains severe but we are doing everything we can to win the release of the two Japanese hostages,” Suga said. He said Japan is using every channel it can find, including local tribal chiefs, to try to reach the captors. He said there has been no direct contact from the hostage takers.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened his National Security Council to discuss how to handle the crisis, as the mother of one of the captives appealed for her son’s rescue.
“Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son’s life,” said Junko Ishido, the mother of 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto.
“My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State,” she said in a tearful appearance in Tokyo.
Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria to try to rescue the other hostage, 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa.
“My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance,” she said. In very Japanese fashion, Ishido apologised repeatedly for “all the trouble my son has caused.”
National broadcaster NHK reported early Friday that it had received a message from Islamic State “public relations” saying a statement would be released soon.