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Japan weighs ransom in ISIS threat to kill hostages

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

CAIRO (AP):

The Islamic State group threatened yesterday to kill two Japanese hostages within 72 hours, demanding a US$200 million ransom for their lives from Japan's prime minister as he visited the Middle East.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to save captives Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, telling journalists in Jerusalem: "Their lives are the top priority."

But with his military generally only operating in a self-defence capacity at home, Abe faced a hard choice of rewarding extremists now targeted by a United States-led coalition or asking an ally like America, which has tried a previous hostage rescue in Syria, to launch a risky operation on its behalf.

The video, released via militant websites associated with the Islamic State group and apparently made by its al-Furqan media arm, mirrored other hostage threats it has made. Japanese officials said they would analyse the video to verify its authenticity, though Abe offered no hesitation as he pledged to free the men.

"It is unforgivable," said Abe as he wrapped up a six-day visit to the Middle East. He added: "Extremism and Islam are completely different things."

In the video, Goto and Yukawa in orange jumpsuits with a rocky hill in the background, a masked militant dressed in black standing between them. The scene resembles others featuring the five hostages previously beheaded by the Islamic State group, which controls one third of Iraq and Syria.

"To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,000 and 500 kilometres (5,280 miles) from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade," says the knife-brandishing militant, who resembles and sounds like a British militant involved in other filmed beheadings.

"You have proudly donated US$100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims ... and in an attempt to stop the expansion of the Islamic State, you have also donated another US$100 million to train the apostates."

The militant's comments likely refer to money Abe pledged while in Egypt to help Iraq's government and aid Syrian refugees.

Abe and others in his government declined to say whether the would pay a ransom, though he dispatched Yasuhide Nakayama, a deputy foreign minister, to Jordan to seek the country's support and to resolve the hostage crisis. But agreeing to the Islamic State group's demands likely would anger allies like the US, which has a strict policy of not paying ransoms.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the immediate release of the two Japanese hostages and as well as all other hostages taken by armed groups, especially Islamic State extremists, in Iraq and Syria, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.