Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called threats against two Japanese citizens "unforgivable," after a video was released — reportedly by members of the Islamic State — asking the country for a $200 million ransom and promising the deaths of the two hostages if the demand wasn't met.
The video, which seems to feature the Islamic State militant who media nicknamed "Jihadi John," bears the title: "A message to the government and people of Japan."
It shows the masked jihadist flanked by the two Japanese men, believed to be Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto Jogo. The hostages are kneeling and dressed in orange jumpsuits.
Speaking in the same British accent as the person who has featured in several other Islamic State beheading videos, the militant wields a black knife. "To the prime minister of Japan," he says, "although you are more than 8,000 and 500 kilometers (5,280 miles) from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade." He then claims that the Japanese government has "72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision in paying the $200m to save the lives of your citizens. Otherwise this knife will become your nightmare."
Responding from Jerusalem, Abe said: "It is unforgivable, and I feel strong resentment towards this threat against human life. I strongly demand that the group does not harm the two Japanese, and releases them immediately… Japan will contribute working with the international community to contribute to the region's peace and stability. Japan will not change this policy."
The country's foreign ministry has said that it is currently working to verify the video.
Abe is currently on a four-stop tour of the Middle East, though he is expected to cut it short after these developments. On Saturday, Abe spoke about the "immeasurable" damage that the world would suffer if terrorism spread in the Middle East. He also promised to give $2.5 billion in non-military assistance to the region. Of this, $200 million would be non-military aid specifically for countries fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and much of that sum would go specifically towards helping refugees, officials said.
Meanwhile, more details about the two Japanese men are emerging.
The first to be captured, Yukawa, is believed to be 42. His repeated trips to Syria appear to have been the culmination of a period of personal turmoil. In a profile published in August, Reuters reported that over the past decade Yukawa's wife had died of lung cancer, his house had been sold to pay his debts, and he had lived in a public park for nearly a month.
Yukawa also reportedly began to question his gender, changing his name to the more feminine Haruna from Masayuki, and — according to the Japan Times— he "came to believe he was the reincarnation of a cross-dressing Manchu princess who had spied for Japan in World War Two."
Around 2008 Yukawa attempted to kill himself by cutting off his own genitals, apparently writing: "I thought if I failed I would live as a woman and leave the rest to destiny."
He labeled himself CEO at "Private Military Company," on Facebook and posted numerous updates and YouTube videos. This included footage of him testing an AK47 in Aleppo last year, while others focused on the suffering of people in Syria.
"It seems like the Free Syrian Army soldiers are all waiting for me," Yukawa wrote in a blog post in June. "I'm very happy and I too want to quickly meet up with them. I want to devote the rest of my life to others and save many people. I want to make my mark on history one more time."
It is believed Yukawa was captured on August 14. A picture posted by one of his Facebook friends later spoke about his seizure. A video posted online on August 17, 2014, reportedly shows Yukawa being subjected to rough questioning, while his arms seem to be tied behind his back. His captives ask him whether he is a spy, and he responds by saying he is "half photographer, half doctor." The man questioning him asks why he was carrying a gun, but Yukawa's answer is inaudible.
After Yukawa's capture last August, Goto — the second Japanese man featured in the Islamic State video — spoke to Reuters about him, saying that they met in Syria and had traveled to Iraq together in June.
"Yukawa has this soft, non-threatening approach that makes people trust him and puts them at ease," Goto said.
According to the International Business Times, Goto, 47, is an experienced journalist who set up his own video production company, Independent Press, in Tokyo in 1996, with the slogan "The World With You."
The Independent reported that he has written books on AIDS, and has also reported from other conflict zones, including Afghanistan and Somalia. He spoke about the conflict in Syria at a UNICEF lecture he gave in March 2014.
In July, Goto posted in a Facebook group called the "Iraqi Journalists' Rights Defense Association," asking whether someone could send a letter saying they would sponsor him so he could get a visa to go to Baghdad. He said he was willing to pay money for costs and expenses.
Goto also posted a video in early October from Kobane and reportedly sent an email to an Associated Press journalist in October, where he wrote: "I'm in Syria for reporting. I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it."
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