Islamic State has released a video threatening the lives of two Japanese hostages and demanding a $200m (£130m) ransom from their government.
The 1min 40sec film entitled “A Message to the Government and People of Japan” begins with footage from Japan’s public broadcaster giving details of a multimillion-dollar Middle Eastern aid package announced just a few days ago by the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Standing on a hillside in a rocky desert (similar to that of previous hostage footage) between two kneeling hostages wearing orange jumpsuits and named on screen as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa, the British-accented militant widely known as “Jihadi John” dressed in the now-familiar black robe and mask and brown leather gun belt, demands that $100m be paid for the life of each hostage within 72 hours days.
“To the Prime Minister of Japan. Although you are more than 8,500km away from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade.
You have proudly donated $100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims.
So the life of this (points knife at Kenji Goto) Japanese citizen will cost you $100 million.
And in an attempt to stop the expansion of the Islamic State, you also donated another $100 million to train the murtadeen (apostates) against the mujahideen.
And so the life of this (points knife at Haruna Yukawa) Japanese citizen will cost you another $100 million.
And to the Japanese public: Just as how your government has made the foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens.
Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare.”
Yukawa and Goto are the first Japanese citizens to be threatened with execution by Islamic State. The two men were seized last year.
Yukawa was captured by IS fighters on August 17th, near the town of Dabiq, north-east Syria. He is believed to have been with a Syrian opposition militia, Suqour al-Sham, at the time. In 2013 he began spending time with Japanese far-right groups and attempted to reinvent himself as a security consultant. As the self-styled chief executive of Private Military Company, Yukawa declared himself ready to help Japanese multinationals with bases in dangerous parts of the world, and went to Syria to fight with rebels last year.
Pictures on his Facebook page show Yukawa in Iraq and Syria in July. One video on his page showed him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle with the caption: “Syria war in Aleppo 2014.”
He once reportedly told family and friends that journeying to dangerous places, such as Syria and Somalia, represented his last chance to find personal contentment. “He felt his life had reached its limit,” his father, Shoichi, told Reuters last year after he was taken hostage.
Yukawa was filmed by IS after sustaining a leg injury during a gunfight 20 miles (30km) north of Aleppo. It appeared to show him lying on his back with blood pouring down his face. Asked if he was a soldier, he replied that he was “no soldier” and that he was “half journalist, half doctor”.
Goto has previously said he was driven by a desire to report from trouble spots on issues that were sometimes neglected by mainstream media. “I’m in Syria for reporting,” he told Associated Press in an email last October. “I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.”
Footage from his last Twitter post in October 3rd, 2014 shows him talking in front of the Syrian city of Kobani, which has been under siege from ISIS fighters for several months.
Goto appears in his last video message made on October, 24, 2014 in northern Mari district of Aleppo, Syria, before embarking on his journey into IS-controlled territory.
“It is my responsibility if something happens,” he says. “Syrian people suffering three years and a half. It’s enough. So I would like to get the story of what ISIS want to do in Syria.”
The pair are understood to have met up to travel back to the Middle East when Yukawa briefly returned to Japan in April.After Yukawa’s capture Goto told Reuters that, despite his bravado, Yukawa had a softer side that helped persuade Free Syrian Army rebels to allow him to accompany them. “Yukawa has this soft, non-threatening approach that makes people trust him and puts them at ease,” he said.
A video filmed by Yukawa and uploaded on his YouTube channel shows Goto reporting in Kirkuk, Iraq:
Speaking in Jerusalem during a week-long tour of the Middle East, Abe described the threat to kill the two hostages as unforgivable and demanded the Islamic State immediately release the pair. He vowed to save the men, saying “their lives are the top priority.”
In a book published in 2013 after he took office, Abe condemned a previous government for caving in to airplane hijackers, indicating he’s not inclined to pay the sum demanded. Abe told U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron by phone that he stood by his country’s commitment not to pay ransoms, according to Cameron’s spokeswoman Helen Bower. Group of Eight leaders pledged in 2013 not to pay terrorists to free hostages.
The video of two Japanese hostages being held by the Islamic State group seems, like past IS videos, taken in an arid, desert setting. But suspicions are emerging that the message was not prepared outdoors at all. An expert in these videos said it was more likely completed in an indoor studio with a false backdrop made to appear that it was done outdoors.
Veryan Khan, editorial director for the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, said that the light source on the men in the latest videos appears to be coming from two different directions — as opposed to one bright sun. If the video was made outdoors in natural light, the shadows behind them should be going in one direction. Instead, they converge.
“The hostages are visibly bothered by” the bright light, she told AP.
One of the hostage’s jumpsuits flutters in a breeze, Khan saying she believes it’s from a fan. Wind in the desert would be noisy and affect the sound quality of the statements being made by Jihadi John, she said. It would also kick up dust, and none seems apparent, she said.
But an investigation done by metabunk.org members concludes that the shadows in the first video are exactly as they should be, demonstrating why the shadows converge.
The deadline imposed by the Islamic State for Japan to pay $200 million to free two hostages passed, starting what the terrorist group called a countdown clock on Friday.
A tweet from a Twitter account linked to ISIS said the hostages had been killed “because of Japan’s choices.” The tweet, on the same one that previously posted the countdown clock, warned that a new video was “being sent to production.”
UPDATE 01/31/2015 (GRAPHIC VIDEO) Islamic State Beheads Japanese Journalist Kenji Goto