Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday instructed Cabinet ministers to make utmost efforts for an early release of hostage Kenji Goto held by Islamic State militants, two days after extremist group uploaded an image suggesting another hostage Haruna Yukawa had been killed.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Abe said, "I feel pain to think about the anguish of Mr. Yukawa's family. Please make the maximum efforts and take every possible measure to secure the early release of Mr. Goto." The online video posted on Saturday showed a still image of Goto, 47, holding a picture of 42-year-old Yukawa's body. In an English audio message attached to the video, a man claiming to be the surviving hostage Goto said the militants killed Yukawa.
He also said the Islamic State is no longer demanding ransom, but demands the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, currently in prison in Jordan, in exchange for Goto. Al-Rishawi is an Iraqi woman who was sent on an al-Qaida bombing mission to Jordan in 2005, which killed at least 57 people.
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the video is highly likely to be credible, but the government is still analyzing it. "We are trying all possible channels to free Mr. Goto, while coordinating with the Jordanian government, countries concerned, religious groups and tribal chiefs," Suga said.
The top government spokesman also admitted that there has been no contact from the Islamic State militant group.
Goto is a freelance journalist. He went missing in October shortly after posting on his Twitter account that he was in Syria. Last August, Islamic State militant group abducted Yukawa, who was working as private military company operator.
On Jan. 20, the Islamic State posted an online video showing the two Japanese hostages kneeling before a knife-wielding militant, who threatened to kill the captives unless Japan pays a ransom of USD 200 million within 72 hours.
The ransom deadline expired on Friday. The ransom demanded by the militants was the same amount of money as that Abe pledged on Jan. 17 in Cairo during his six-day trip to the Middle East, on promoting efforts against the Islamic State militants, including extending support to refugees from Iraq and Syria. According to public broadcaster NHK, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama, the head of Japan's hostage crisis taskforce in Amman, told reporters on Sunday that Japan vows to "never give up" its struggle to secure the release of Goto. Asked if Japan had petitioned the Jordanian government to release a terrorist on death row, which the militant group is demanding, Nakayama said he could not discuss the issue.