The deadline for Japan to fork over $200 million to ISIS terrorists in exchange for two hostages passed early Friday — and the fate of the captives is unknown.
The Islamic extremists posted a video Tuesday warning Japan it had 72 hours to save the lives of journalist Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa.
Earlier Friday, the militants uploaded an online warning that the “countdown has begun”: a clock and gruesome images of other hostages who have been beheaded by the Islamic State group.
When the clock hit zero, the executioner — a monster the FBI has dubbed “Jihadi John” — did not reach for his knife, but several unconfirmed reports claimed the men had been killed.
The national broadcaster NHK reported early Friday that it had received a message from Islamic State “public relations” saying a statement would be released soon.
The status of Japan’s efforts to free the two men was also unclear. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, said Japan was analyzing the Tuesday video, but did not outline any plan to save the men. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened his National Security Council to discuss how to handle the crisis.
Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war. Two Japanese who said they have contacts with a leader in the Islamic State group offered Thursday to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea.
Yukawa, 42, vanished in Syria in August. He traveled to the Middle Eastern country after he became obsessed with hypermasculine right-wing Japanese nationalism.
Goto, 47, was captured in October. Before he disappeared, he told one of his guides he was on a mission to find his friend Yukawa.
Before crossing into Syria, Goto recorded a video message meant for his countrymen.
“Because it very dangerous, whatever happens, I will not blame the people of Syria,” he said in Japanese in the video, according to an NBC News translation.
“I urge the Japanese people not to demand Syrians to take responsibility. But I will definitely come back alive.”
On Friday, Goto’s mother made a final plea for her son’s life.
“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 less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria in an effort to rescue Yukawa.
“My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance,” she said.
Ishido said she had not had any contact with the government.
Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, but said their lives were the top priority.
Japan has joined other major industrial nations of the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. U.S. and British officials also said they advised against paying.
ISIS has executed scores of Syrians and Iraqis and several high-profile western hostages.
American aid worker Peter Kassig, American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines were all beheaded on camera. In each of their execution videos, the men wore the same orange jumpsuits Goto and Yukawa were seen wearing in the Tuesday clip.
With News Wire Services