Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: 'We Are Fighting Against Time to Free ISIS Hostages'

( [email protected] ) Jan 21, 2015 11:35 AM EST
Shinzo Abe
Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, speaks to reporters at his official residence on Wednesday after a five-day Middle East trip. Photo: AFP

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that it's a "race against time" to free two hostages captured by Islamic State terrorists, who are demanding a $200 million ransom for their lives.

However, Mr. Abe asserted his country will refuse to sucumb to "terrorism" as Japan enters a crisis following the release of a disturbing video showing two Japanese men kneeling in the desert somewhere in the Middle East.

"This is a very tough race against time, but the government will do its utmost," he told reporters on Wednesday, "We'll make an all-out effort and use every diplomatic route that we have developed to win the release of the two."

The PM reportedly sought the advice of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, as well as from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Japan will never yield to terrorism. Japan will do its best in the battle against the cowardice of terrorism, hand in hand with the international community," he said.

This is the first time Islamic State militants have threatened Japanese captives. However, last year, the group murdered two British and two American hostages on camera in retaliation for Western countries conducting airstrikes on its forces.

In footage posted on extremist websites on Tuesday, a black-clad militant holding a knife addresses the camera in English. Two hostages wearing orange jumpsuits identified as journalist Kenji Goto and military contractor Haruna Yukawa kneel on either side of him.

"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens," he says.

The militant says the sum is equal to the aid that Mr. Yabe pledged in support of the fight against the Islamic State. However, Japan said the money was specifically allocated to help refugees fleeing the fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Goto, 47, is a respected Japanese freelance journalist and a professing Christian who, according to his pastor, possessed a "strong sense of justice" and "was always conscious for the vulnerable." He was captured in October after traveling to Syria to report on the country's civil war.

"I'm in Syria for reporting," Goto wrote in an email to an Associated Press journalist shortly before he was taken hostage. "I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it."

Yukawa, a 42-year-old private military company operator, was kidnapped in Syria in August while fighting with Suqour al-Sham, a Syrian opposition group

Speaking in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to say whether Japan would pay the ransom.

"If true, the act of threat in exchange of people's lives is unforgivable and we feel strong indignation," Suga told journalists. "We will make our utmost effort to win their release as soon as possible."