Fate of Japanese captive unknown as hostage deal looms

TOKYO – The fate of the Japanese hostage held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was uncertain Wednesday as a reported deal to free a Jordanian pilot made no mention of the Japanese captive.

The Jordanian government said it would free convicted terrorist Sajida Rishawi in exchange for First Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasba. No reference was made to freelance journalist Kenji Goto.

The report came shortly after other news outlets reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who has led the Japanese response to the crisis, had said “good news” about Goto’s captivity could be expected “within hours.”

Earlier, Japanese media reported Japan had stepped up calls for Jordan to help secure Goto’s release.

The Japanese government held an emergency Cabinet meeting following the Tuesday evening release of a video message warning that Goto, 47, would be killed within 24 hours, Kyodo News said.

The video follows the release of a clip a few days earlier that seemed to show that another hostage, 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, had been murdered.

"I feel great outrage at this extremely vicious act,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told ministers, according to the news agency.

"It's an extremely severe situation but the government has been seeking cooperation from the Jordanian government for the release of Mr. Goto as soon as possible and we will continue to do so," he added.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Tokyo had formally requested that King Abdullah II of Jordan consider releasing al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row for an attempted suicide bombing in 2005.

One high-ranking Japanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Japan Times, described the government’s response as “incompetent” and said Tokyo could only “ask cooperation of the Jordanian government” to save Goto’s life.

In Tuesday’s online clip, posted around 11 p.m. Japanese time (1400GMT), Goto is shown in a still photograph wearing an orange jumpsuit as a male voice calls for Jordan to release al-Rishawi.

Goto holds a photograph of a man who appears to be al Kasaesbeh, a Jordanian air force pilot captured by ISIL in December. The voice in the video says the pilot will be killed before Goto.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference the government has had "no reason to deny" the authenticity of the footage.

Following the release of the video, Goto's mother Junko Ishido, 78, pleaded for her son's life and read out a letter she had sent to Abe. "Kenji does not have any hostility to Islamic State,” she told journalists. “Please bring him home."

Senior members of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan have criticized the timing of Abe’s recent promise of $200 million in aid to countries confronting ISIL, suggesting it may have endangered the Japanese hostages.

On Jan. 20, ISIL posted its first video of Goto and Yukawa, threatening to kill them within 72 hours unless Japan paid a $200 million ransom.

Late Saturday night, the group posted a second video showing Goto holding what appeared to be an image of the beheaded body of Yukawa and demanded the release of al-Rishawi.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency