The militant group ISIS has threatened to kill two Japanese hostages unless Tokyo hands over $200 million within 72 hours.
In a video posted online Tuesday, a masked man clad in black and holding a knife stands over two kneeling men in orange jumpsuits against the backdrop of a barren landscape.
The masked man links the threat against the two men’s lives to Japan’s support for the U.S.-led coalition that’s fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“Although you are more than 8,500 kilometers away from the Islamic State, you willingly volunteered to take part in this crusade,” the man says, addressing his comments to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is currently visiting the Middle East.
The international community needs to “deal with terrorists without giving into them,” Abe said at a news conference in Jerusalem after the release of the video. But he stopped short of explicitly ruling out the payment of a ransom or negotiations with the hostages’ captors.
Abe, who is reorganizing his trip to deal with the hostage crisis, said he had ordered Japanese officials to do the utmost to try to save the two men. The Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said it was working to confirm the authenticity of the video.
The masked man in the video identifies the two kneeling men as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa.
A lost soul and a journalist
The Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Yukawa is a 42-year-old who is believed to have been captured in Syria in August while traveling with rebel fighters.
He claimed to have set up a company in Tokyo providing armed security services and posted videos online of his activities in Iraq and Syria.
But a report by the news agency Reuters in August portrayed him as a lost soul, who went to the Middle East searching for a purpose after losing his wife, his business and his home over the previous decade.
Japanese officials in Jordan had being trying to secure his release, including talking to various groups with possible connections to his captors, Kyodo reported previously.
Goto was a freelance journalist who reported for various Japanese news organizations about the situation in the Syrian battleground city of Kobani and other areas. His last Twitter post was on October 23.
The imagery of the video is grimly familiar from previous ISIS videos in which American and British hostages were shown beheaded or being threatened with death.
ISIS began publicizing its brutal killings of Western hostages in August when it released a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.
His death was followed by those of American journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning and U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.
ISIS has also gained notoriety for its ruthless treatment of some groups in the territory under its control who don’t share its extremist interpretation of Islam.
Japan’s anti-ISIS aid pledge
The United States began carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq in August in an effort to help Iraqi forces battling the militants.
U.S. forces then expanded the air campaign against ISIS targets into Syria in September, with the support of an international coalition including some Arab nations.
Japan, whose post-World War II constitution allows it to use its military only for self-defense, hasn’t taken part in the airstrikes.
But in a speech Sunday in Cairo, Abe pledged $200 million to help countries “contending” with ISIS to help build “human capacities, infrastructure and so on.”
The masked speaker in the ISIS video appeared to make a reference to that pledge as he threatened the Japanese hostages and demanded the same sum as a ransom.
Abe said Tuesday that he would not change the policy of providing the financial aid, which he said was desperately needed to help people survive.
The Japanese Prime Minister previously had to deal with a hostage crisis involving Islamic militants in January 2013, when 10 Japanese citizens were caught up in the terrorist seizure of a natural gas facility in Algeria.