Japan ISIS Update: Authorities Optimistic for Release of Hostage Kenji Goto; Christians Fast, Pray for Safe Return

( [email protected] ) Jan 27, 2015 10:15 AM EST
Kenji Goto
Journalist Kenji Goto has been described as a ''peaceful man'' with a ''gentle heart'' who often reported on the plight of children and those vulnerable in Syria. (Twitter)

(Update 1/27 at 8:56 a.m. PT): A new video purporting to show Japanese ISIS hostage Kenji Goto has been released. Senior Japanese officials are meeting to try to authenticate the clip, Reuters reports. The new video reportedly features a picture of Goto while an unidentified speaker says he has "only 24 hours left to live."

Japanese authorities say they are hopeful regarding the release of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist taken hostage by Islamic State militants, and have vowed to "never give up" until he is free.

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo, "The horrible act of terrorism by ISIL is outrageous and we resolutely condemn it." He added, "The situation is extremely severe but we'll do the utmost to have Kenji Goto released as soon as possible ... We won't give in to terrorism."

Less than 24 hours earlier, Japanese Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama traveled to Jordan, coordinating regional efforts to free Goto, who was taken hostage in Syria while attempting to rescue his friend, Haruna Yukawa, who was captured by the terrorist group in August.

Goto's fate is unknown since a deadline passed Friday for payment of a $200 million ransom. An audio recording released Saturday of Goto confirming the execution of Yukawa and stating that his captors now want the release of a prisoner held in Jordan instead of a ransom is believed by Tokyo to be authentic.

"Human life remains this government's foremost priority and from that perspective we are working closely with various nations, including Jordan, and religious leaders as well as tribal chiefs and other such organizations for the early release of Mr Goto," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Japan, adding that the execution of 42-year-old Yukawa was an "extremely dastardly act."

According to reports, the militants are hoping to bargain for the release of Sajida Rishawi, a woman who is being held by the Jordanian authorities for participating in a series of hotel bombings in 2005.

However, Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, remained defiant, asserting, "I have a strong sense of anger...[but] we will not give in to terrorism."

Meanwhile, Japanese Christians across the world have united to pray for the safe return of Goto, a pacifist who converted to Christianity in 1977.

"We are pleading with God to free our dear friend and compassionate journalist, who worked to educate the world on the devastating realities faced by children and those persecuted in Syria," wrote reporter Jong Leeon on a Facebook page dedicated Goto

"Let all Japanese Christians fast and pray for Mr.Goto and ISIS soldiers, so that the Gospel will, by the mouth of Goto, penetrate the hearts of ISIS soldiers, which will bring about a great awakening among the hard-line islamic militants. May God be praised through this situation," added a Japanese man named Young Kim, adding that he and several of his friends had spent hours fasting and praying for Goto's release.

Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, who has previously begged for her son's life, told reporters Sunday she was discouraged after seeing the picture of Goto, in which he "looked very tense."

However, she continues to hold onto a fragment of hope: "Japan never abandons its people," she said. "I believe the government is united and doing its best."