TOKYO—The so-called Islamic State has released a video showing a black-clad executioner and what is believed to be the decapitated body of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. The latest atrocity at the hands of the group known widely as ISIS or ISIL came after long days of ostensible negotiations with Japan and with Jordan, first for a ransom of $200 million, then for the freedom of a convicted woman terrorist. The final deadline expired on Thursday at sunset in the Syrian and Iraqi territories now held by ISIS.
The fate of a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS in December, whose life also was threatened as part of the terror group’s public demands, remains unknown.
According to Japan’s National Broadcasting Network, NHK the video was released on Feb. 1 shortly after 5:00 a.m. Japan time.
The video opened with the title in English, “A Message To the Government of Japan.” A man dressed in an orange prisoner uniform who appears to be Goto is on his knees among some barren hills and standing beside him is a man with a knife dressed in the black outfit of a militant, speaking with a working-class British accent: the same staged scene first made infamous when the American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded last year.
The Japanese government is rushing to confirm the authenticity of the video. Sources close to the Japanese cabinet told The Daily Beast that they considered the possibility the video was real to be high but not 100 percent confirmed.
The killing, if such it is, follows on a drama that stretches back to last October when Goto went into ISIS-controlled territory to try to win the freedom of another Japanese, Haruna Yukawa, a deeply disturbed young man who had worked briefly with Goto and imagined that he could be a freelance security contractor. Ultimately both men were held hostage, but little was heard from them in public and the Japanese government, as most governments do, tried to keep any negotiations secret.
Then in mid-January, on a six-day tour of the Middle East, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged $200 million in aid to countries fighting ISIS. Three days later, on January 20, ISIS released a video of Goto and Yukawa and demanded $200 million in ransom. The 72-hour deadline passed, with no payment, and a new video was posted of a still picture showing Goto holding up another still photograph of Yukawa’s severed head resting on top of his dead body. The voice of a man claiming to be Goto changed the ransom demand, dropping the question of money and instead calling for Jordan to release Sajida al Rishawi, who was part of a suicide bombing operation that killed scores of people in Amman hotels in 2005.
On January 27, ISIS released another video changing the context of the drama once again. This time the still photograph of Goto showed him holding a picture of Muadh al Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot who was captured in December when his plane crashed over ISIS-infested territory. Goto said that if al Rishawi was not freed by sunset local time on Thursday, al Kasasbeh would be killed and he would be, as well.
The Jordanian government announced it would free al Rishawi if its pilot was returned, making no mention of Goto. But it demanded proof that the pilot was still alive, and none was forthcoming.
As the deadline approached, Goto’s wife, Rinko, made a statement pleading for his life and the life of the pilot.
”My husband and I have two very young daughters,” she said on a recording released by the Rory Peck Trust. “Our baby girl was only three weeks old when Kenji left. I hope our oldest daughter, who is just two, will get to see her father again. I want them both to grow up knowing their father.”
With luck, they will never see the new video, which follows exactly the same format used when Foley and Sotloff were killed, except that no other hostage is presented on camera as next in line, as was the case with the other murders. The fact that there is no image of the Jordanian pilot suggests that he may, indeed, have died some time ago.
In the video, “Jihadi John,” as the executioner has come to be known in the British press, stands beside Goto with a drawn knife, which he uses to gesture as he says: “To the Japanese government, you, like your foolish allies in the satanic coalition, have yet to understand that we, by Allah’s grace, are an Islamic caliphate with authority and power, an entire army thirsty for your blood.”
Goto is silent and stoic as his masked murderer continues his diatribe on behalf of his make-believe state thirsty not only for blood but for recognition: “Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war this knife will not only slaughter Kenji but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
As in some previous ISIS videos, after the diatribe ends, the killer puts the knife to the victim’s throat, the image fades to black, and then a still photograph appears with the severed head resting atop the dead man’s body.
The video ends with unintentional irony, citing the Arabic invocation “bismallah al rahman al rahim”: In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate.”
With additional reporting by Christopher Dickey