One of the Japanese men who was seen in an online video this week, as the Islamic group ISIS threatened to kill him and another captured Japanese citizen, had reportedly traveled to Syria in order to try to save his friend—who has now been beheaded.
Kenji Goto, 47, who became a Christian in 1997, had told reporters last year that he felt compelled to do what he could to help rescue Haruna Yukawa, 42, after he was abducted in August near the city of Aleppo. Yukawa had been through a number of difficult life situations, including bankruptcy, his wife’s cancer diagnosis and a suicide attempt, and thought that perhaps becoming a military contractor would change his life for the better.
After learning that Yukawa had been captured by Islamic insurgents, Goto left Japan in October and eventually made his way into the ISIS-seized city of Raqqa.
“I need to go there at least once and see my fixers (freelance journalist connections) and ask them what the current situation is,” Goto told Reuters. “I need to talk to them face to face. I think that’s necessary.”
The seasoned journalist said that he believed he wasn’t as high risk as those from other countries.
“He said that as a Japanese journalist he expected to be treated differently than American or British journalists,” friend Toshi Maeda explained to reporters. “Japan has not participated in bombing and has only provided humanitarian aid. For that reason, he thought he could secure the co-operation of ISIS.”
But just before the end of the month, days before he planned to return back home, Goto went missing. He hasn’t been seen until this week when he was shown in the video with Yukawa and a member of ISIS, who has been nicknamed by the media as “Jihadi John.” The two were dressed in orange jumpsuits and had their hands either chained or tied behind their backs.
ISIS threatened to kill the men if they were not provided with a $200 million ransom by Friday.
On Saturday, a second video appeared, which featured Goto holding what is believed to be a photograph of Yukawa’s dead body.
“They no longer want money,” he stated somberly. “So, you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida al-Rishawi.”
The woman cited had been convicted in 2006 for her participation in the 2005 bomb attacks on hotels in Amman, Jordan. She was to have served as a suicide bomber, but her vest failed to detonate.
Reports state that Goto is now being used as a “bargaining chip” by Islamists as indicated by the new video footage.
“You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her,” he explains. “Don’t let these be my last words you ever hear. Don’t let [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe also kill me.”
Leaders from around the world have expressed outrage at the reports of Yukawa’s death and are calling for Goto’s safe release.
“This action is an unforgivable act of violence that leaves us at a loss for words, and we condemn it,” Japanese government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said in a statement. “We strongly urge that the remaining hostage, Mr. Goto, not be harmed and be immediately released.”