Tokyo, Jan 23: The deadline for paying ransom for two Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State group was fast approaching early today with no signs of a breakthrough. Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan has been scrambling for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war.
Two Japanese who said they have contacts with a leader in the Islamic State group yesterday offered to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea. The militants threatened in a video message to kill the hostages within 72 hours unless they receive USD 200 million.
Based on the video's release time, that deadline would expire sometime today. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga yesterday said that Japan was trying all possible channels to reach those holding the hostages - 47-year-old freelance journalist Kenji Goto, and 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, the founder of a private security company.
Goto's mother was expected to make an appearance in Tokyo early today, in the first public comment by a family member. Suga said Japan had not received any message from IS since the release of the video. Tokyo lacks strong diplomatic connections in the Middle East, and Japanese diplomats left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the group holding the hostages.
So far, the only initiative made public was an offer by Ko Nakata, an expert on Islamic law and former professor at Kyoto's Doshisha University, along with journalist Kousuke Tsuneoka. Both are converts to Islam. Appearing at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Nakata, who is also a former Islamic specialist at the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia, read a message in Japanese and Arabic.
"Seventy-two hours is just too short. Please wait just a bit longer, and do not try to take action immediately," he said, addressing the militants. "If there is room to talk, I'm ready to go and negotiate." Nakata proposed offering USD 200 million in humanitarian aid to refugees and residents of areas controlled by the Islamic State, through the Red Crescent Society.
"The Red Crescent Society is operating under the Islamic State's control. Why don't we seek Turkey's mediation and give the money for the people affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria? I believe this could be a rational, acceptable option," he said.