23 Jan 2015

Japan awaits news of IS hostages as deadline passes

Japan says it is still trying to secure the release of two Japanese hostages held by Islamic State group militants after a deadline to pay ransom for their release passed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the situation remained “severe” while the mother of one of the hostages, a journalist, appealed for his safe release.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said saving the men’s lives is paramount but that Japan will not bow to terrorism.

Read more: Islamic State's 'Jihadi John' in new hostage video

Muslims today gathered to pray at a mosque in Tokyo and call for the release of the two men (see video above).

In an online video released on Tuesday, a black-clad figure holding a knife stood between journalist Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, threatening to kill them if Tokyo did not pay Islamic State $200m within 72 hours.

The Japanese government considers the deadline to be 2:50pm local time (0550 GMT) on Friday. The deadline passed with no word on the fate of the hostages.

“My son Kenji is not an enemy of the people of the Islamic faith. I can only pray as a mother for his release,” Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told a packed news conference, choking back tears. “If I could offer my life I would plead that my son be released, it would be a small sacrifice on my part.

“He only went to rescue his friend. He has always looked out for weaker people, he was always helping weaker children than him,” she added.

Abe has ordered his government to make every effort to secure their safe release, setting off a flurry of activity among Japanese diplomats.

The captor in the video, which resembles those showing previous Islamic State captives, says the ransom demand matches the $200m in aid that Abe pledged to help countries fighting Islamist militants.

Abe made the pledge during a multi-nation visit to the Middle East earlier this week. Islamic State militants have seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, and beheaded several western captives.

Japan has stressed that its donation is for humanitarian aid, such as helping refugees, and insisted that it will not bow to terrorist threats.

Japanese officials have declined to say if they would pay any ransom, a move that would put Tokyo at odds with close ally the United States.