Japan's government is seeking verification of a video that suggests the hostage Haruna Yukawa has been killed by Islamic State radicals. Released on Saturday, the message claimed one hostage has been killed and demanded a prisoner exchange for the other. However the post was deleted quickly, and militants on a website affiliated with the Islamic State group disagreed about the message's authenticity.
Within the video, a still image of second hostage Kenji Goto Jogo appears in which the captive is holding a picture of Yukawa's body with his decapitated head sat on his chest. The audio is of a man purporting to be Goto pleading for his life.
Earlier this week footage was released in which a masked militant, believed to be the Briton known as Jihadi John, made threats to kill the two hostages unless £133 million ransom was paid. "To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,500 kilometers away from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade," the militant said in the video released Tuesday.
According to the Associated Press, the contents of the Saturday's message varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said government ministers were holding an emergency meeting about the new message. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters as he rushed into his office that the release of the new message was "an outrageous and unforgivable act. We demand their immediate release." Kyodo News agency reported that the same video has been emailed to the wife of one of the hostages.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the reported murder is "another reminder of the murderous barbarity of these terrorists", adding that Britain "stands in solidarity with the Japanese people".
Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of 47-year-old Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war. Japanese diplomats had left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the militants holding the hostages. One militant on the Islamic State-affiliated website warned that Saturday's new message was fake, while another said that the message was intended only to go to the Japanese journalist's family.
A third militant on the website noted that the video was not issued by al-Furqan, which is one of the media arms of the Islamic State group and has issued past videos involving hostages and beheadings. Saturday's message did not bear al-Furqan's logo. The militants on the website post comments using pseudonyms, so their identities could not be independently confirmed by the AP. However, their confusion over the video matched that of Japanese officials and outside observers.
Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom. Japan has joined other major industrial nations in the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. US and British officials said they advised against paying.
Goto's mother made an appeal for the journalist's rescue. "Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido. "My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State." Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left for Syria less than two weeks after his child was born in October to try to rescue Yukawa.