Japan faces deadline to free IS hostages

Updated: 2015-01-23 10:31


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Japan faces deadline to free IS hostages

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence in Tokyo January 23, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

In his last communication with the Islamic State group several months ago, Tsuneoka said they had promised not to kill Yukawa or demand ransom.

"It's a desperate situation," Tsuneoka said. "I don't recall a hostage who survived after appearing on the video."

It is unclear if the two would be allowed to go to Syria, since they have been questioned by Japan's security police on suspicion of trying to help a Japanese college student visit Syria to fight with the Islamic State group.

Tsuneoka said they would contact the militants only with a go-ahead by the Foreign Ministry, and could possibly ask representatives of the Islamic State group to meet with them in Turkey.

Suga refused to comment directly on their offer, though he said Tokyo was "prepared to consider all possible ways to save the two hostages." Japanese officials have also not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said their lives were the top priority.

Nakata and Tsuneoka said their contact was with the Islamic State group's current spokesman, whom they identified as Omar Ghrabah. But they said police surveillance and harassment had prevented any communication with him since early October.

Abe's options are limited. Japan's military operates only in a self-defense capacity a home so any rescue attempt would require help from an ally like the United States.

Japanese media have reported that Goto's wife received an email in December asking for more than 2 billion yen ($17 million) in ransom, but it did not contain a threaten to kill Goto.

Abe has pledged $200 million in aid for refugees displaced by the fighting in Syria. In its ransom video, the Islamic State group accused Abe of providing money to kill Muslim women and children and destroy homes, a charge the Japanese government rejects.

Abe aims to raise Japan's global profile and shift to more pro-active diplomatic and security roles, but this crisis could make the public more wary of greater involvement in the Middle East and other global crises.

In 2004, militants captured a Japanese backpacker, demanding that Japan pull its troops out of humanitarian projects in southern Iraq. The government refused, and the backpacker was found beheaded.

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