The Islamic State, a militant group that has terrorized eastern Syria and northern Iraq for over a year, released an online video on Tuesday purportedly showing two Japanese citizens it had captured. IS threatened to kill the hostages unless it received $200 million in ransom within 72 hours. The video resembles other threatening videos released by the group, including most notoriously the videos including U.S. citizens James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning. Similar to those videos, this one also features a figure clad in black standing with a knife and speaking in English, outlining the nature of the threat. The video is notable for being the first in which the Islamic State overtly demands financial ransom for captives.
“To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,500 km away from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade,” notes the militant in the video. In the video, he demands “200 million” without specifying a currency, but Arabic subtitles clarify that the currency is indeed U.S. dollars. According to Reuters, the captured Japanese citizens have been identified as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto. Although the exact date of the video’s production remains indeterminate, its release comes shortly after a trip to Cairo by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on January 17. In Cairo, Abe promised $200 million in non-military assistance for states engaged in the fight against the Islamic State.
Abe, for his part, responded to the video immediately. “We strongly demand the immediate release of the Japanese citizens unharmed … The international community needs to respond firmly and cooperate without caving into terrorism,” Abe said. “Extremism and Islam are completely different things,” he added. The prime minister seemed to dodge the question of whether the Japanese government would pay the ransom, noting that his government’s priority was “saving lives, and gathering information with the help of other countries.” The Japanese cabinet met in Tokyo shortly after the release of the video to discuss possible courses of action. According to Abe, however, Japan remains committed to the fight against IS: “We’ll coordinate with the international community from now on, and contribute more to [the] peace and prosperity of the region. This policy is unwavering and we won’t change this policy.”
Back in 2004, Islamist militants in Iraq captured a 24-year-old Japanese tourist named Shosei Koda and ended up decapitating him after the Japanese government, then led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, rejected a ransom demand. Earlier that year, in 2004, three Japanese citizens were released after having been captured by a group of militants in Iraq who demanded that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces withdraw their troops from the country within three days. The SDF had deployed troops, known as the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group, for non-combat reconstruction and support missions beginning in January 2004. The Abe government similarly faced a hostage crisis in January 2013 when 10 Japanese citizens were captured and killed by Islamist militants at a gas complex in Algeria.