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Japan wants to communicate with ISIS

By Tajuddin
Jan 21st, 2015
ISIS demanded the Japanese government pay a $200 million ransom within three days and promised to kill the hostages if Japan didn't pay up

ISIS demanded the Japanese government pay a $200 million ransom within three days and promised to kill the hostages if Japan didn’t pay up

Tokyo ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Japanese officials want to talk to ISIS. But can they get in touch with the militant group? And if they do, can they do anything to save the lives of two Japanese men being held hostage?

Time is running out: ISIS put out a video Tuesday giving the Japanese government 72 hours to pay $200 million, or else Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa — like other ISIS captives before them — will be killed. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that his government estimates the deadline will come at 2:50 p.m. Friday, Tokyo time (12:50 a.m. ET).

Until then, he said, Japanese officials are trying to save them. Suga said his government will do its utmost to communicate with ISIS on the fate of Goto and Yukawa through a third party, like another nation’s government or a local tribe. He didn’t say whether Japan would be willing to pay any ransom.

Absent such a private back-and-forth, the Japanese official voiced his government’s stance publicly, including its defense of a proposed aid package, also tabbed at $200 million, to help those who are “contending” with ISIS, according to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe has defended the aid package as needed to build up “human capacities, infrastructure and so on,” yet ISIS denounced it anyway in its recent video.

“Japan’s measures are absolutely not intending to kill Muslim people, unlike what the hostage takers claim,” Suga said Wednesday. “We strongly urge them not to harm the two Japanese nationals and immediately release them.”

Goto and Yukawa were last seen months ago, disappearing in the same war-torn part of the world. While they had different professions, the two knew and talked to each other, according to Yukawa’s friend Nobuo Kimoto.

It was January 2014 when Kimoto met Yukawa, who told him about his dream of providing security for Japanese ships in dangerous areas, like waters off Somalia sometimes plagued by pirates. Three months later, Yukawa headed off to Syria to gain combat and survival experience, Kimoto said.

There, Yukawa met the man ISIS refers to as Kenji Goto Jogo (who goes by Kenji Goto on Twitter and in a photograph accredited to him). Goto is a freelance journalist who has worked for various Japanese news organizations, including reporting about the northern Syrian battleground city of Kobani, which for weeks has been under siege by ISIS, and other areas.

Goto gave Yukawa insights on how to survive there, Kimoto said. He also introduced him to rebel fighters — distinct from ISIS, even though both were fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces — some of whom talked about their need for ambulances to shuttle the injured. That plea spurred Yukawa to start raising money for this cause after returning to Japan, according to his friend Kimoto.

“I felt a chill when he said, after returning home, (that) he felt in Syria he was really living a life,” Kimoto said. “He seems to have felt satisfaction being there and living together with the locals.”

He went back to Syria in July — a trip that Kimoto said he didn’t know about at the time. Kimoto said he had advised Yukawa to focus on building up his Private Military Company, which provided armed security services and posted videos online of his activities in Iraq and Syria.

Yukawa, 42, went missing and was captured sometime after that.

Goto met the same fate. While it’s not known exactly when he became a hostage, his last Twitter post was on October 23.

What happens next for both men is up to ISIS. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a record of showing much mercy.

The Islamist militant group has been behind mass killings and kidnappings during its years-long campaign to take over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, attempting to justify its actions — like enslaving and having sex with young girls — as somehow consistent with its extreme, conservative faith.

Taking hostages from outside countries has been part of its playbook. Not only has ISIS beheaded many of them, but it’s made a show of it by recording their deaths and showing them online as propaganda, something that began in August with the killing of U.S. journalist James Foley.

Those beheaded hostages were American and British, both from countries involved in a military campaign against ISIS. Japan is allies with both, though it is not participating in any airstrikes or the training or outfitting of those fighting the militant group.

Tokyo’s stance on the conflict, including the $200 million pledge that Abe made Sunday, was apparently enough to draw the ire of the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

“Although you are more than 8,500 kilometers away from the Islamic State, you willingly volunteered to take part in this crusade,” said the masked man who stood over Goto and Yukawa in Tuesday’s video, addressing his comments to Abe.

Abe has responded by defending the proposed aid and blasting ISIS’ threat against two of his nation’s citizens as “unacceptable.”

“I feel angry about it,” he said Tuesday. “I strongly urge them to immediately release the hostages without harming them.”

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