Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other world leaders on Sunday condemned the apparent Islamic State execution of hostage Haruna Yukawa, one of two Japanese men it held.
“I would like to express my condolences to the Japanese prime minister and people following reports of the brutal murder of a Japanese citizen by Islamic State,” Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday morning.
News that Islamic State captured Yukawa and Japanese war correspondent Kenji Goto broke on Tuesday, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Islamic State released a video showing Goto and Yukawa kneeling with a knife-wielding, masked man demanding a $200 million ransom for their release. The 72-hour ransom deadline set in the first video expired on Friday.
A video that was released on YouTube on Saturday and has since been deleted showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange T-shirt and a recording of what appeared to be him speaking in English.
In the apparent recording, Goto said fellow hostage Yukawa had been executed.
Abe, speaking to public broadcaster NHK, said chances were high that the recording and an image of what appeared to be the decapitated body of captive Yukawa were authentic.
The Japanese leader called for Goto’s immediate release and said saving Goto’s life was a top priority, but reiterated that Japan would not give in to terrorism.
“Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible, which causes me nothing but strong indignation,” Abe said. “Again, I strongly demand that Mr. Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released.”
Netanyahu recalled for the cabinet what he told Abe during his visit to Israel.
“I told him that the struggle against extremist Islamic terrorism is a joint struggle and only if we are united will we be able to emerge victorious,” he said. “Israel stands alongside Japan and the Japanese people in this difficult hour.”
Speaking of the execution, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said ”This is an absolute atrocity – an absolute atrocity.”
“It is hard to imagine the anguish that the hostage’s family would be going through, the anguish that the other hostage’s family would now be going through, and indeed the anguish that the people of Japan would now be suffering,” he said.
“All this means is it’s more important than ever to do everything we can to disrupt and degrade the death cult. That’s all it is – a death cult. It is in love with death. It glories in killing people.
It is a sign of the dark age which is descended upon large parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq,” Abbott said.
US President Barack Obama condemned Yukawa’s “brutal murder” in a statement released by the White House, and later called Abe to express his condolences and thank him for the humanitarian aid Japan has provided to the Middle East, while French President Francois Hollande also condemned what he called the “barbaric killing.”
On Sunday, a convoy believed to be carrying Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama left and returned to the Japanese Embassy in Amman.
Nakayama is the envoy tasked with managing the situation from Jordan after Abe returned to Japan on Wednesday after a six-day visit to the Middle East.
In the video that was released on Saturday, Goto said the Japanese government could save him by working through Jordan, where Japan set up an office to coordinate the government’s response to the hostage situation.
Goto said the terrorists would free him in exchange for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi held in Jordan, and that they have dropped the ransom demand.
“I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life,” the recording said. “You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her.”
Rishawi was arrested shortly after she failed to blow herself up in one of three deadly hotel bombings that hit the Jordanian capital in 2005.
Japan paid $6 million to Japanese Red Army hijackers after a 1977 kidnapping, but in recent years has moved toward the US government’s hard line against paying ransoms.
Japan’s pacifist constitution also rules out any military response. A briefing paper prepared for Abe’s office on Friday and reviewed by Reuters said Japan would not have the legal authority to strike Islamic State, even after proposed legislation loosening military restrictions that the prime minister is seeking to pass later this year.
Abe told NHK that Japan did not intend to join the US-led military operation against Islamic State, but wanted to continue to provide humanitarian aid. The decision by Abe to give aid specifically to countries contending with Islamic State has raised some eyebrows.
Abe told NHK he had spoken to Jordan’s King Abdullah about the situation, but he had no comment on Islamic State’s demand for the release of Rishawi.
Yukawa’s capture by Islamic State fighters outside Aleppo in August was the first time a Japanese citizen has been held by the group.
Yukawa, 42, was seized by terrorists in August after going to Syria to launch a security company. Goto, 47, went into Syria in late October seeking to secure Yukawa’s release, according to friends and business associates.
“I am filled with disappointment, that it has finally come to this,” Yukawa’s father, Shoichi, told NHK. “I feel pained, that he [Goto] risked his life out of concern [for my son] and ended up being captured. I hope he can be released as soon as possible, and return to Japan to continue his activities.”
Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told NHK: “First of all I wish it weren’t true, that it’s some mistake. I’m a mother so it’s unbearable. What I want to tell Islamic State is that Kenji’s ideal is world peace.” She was later quoted by Kyodo news agency as doubting her son would seek a prisoner exchange.
More than 100 people congregated at Tokyo’s Denenchofu Protestant Evangelical Church, where Goto was baptized in 1997 and where he prayed just days after Yukawa was captured in August. Three policemen stood guard outside the church.
“Please have Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in your thoughts as we go through today’s prayers,” Pastor Shun Takatsu said.