In Danger

ISIS Butchers Kill A Japanese Hostage, Leave One Alive

The surviving hostage was forced to hold a picture showing his friend’s severed head and pleads for his life.

GAZIANTEP, Turkey—Even by the barbaric standards of the Islamic State, the video distributed today by the jihadists plumbs new depths of depravity. It shows a Japanese captive, 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto Jogo, holding up a picture of his fellow hostage and friend Haruna Yukawa, who has been decapitated.

The nearly three-minute-long video was released after a 72-hour ransom deadline for the two Japanese hostages expired. In it Goto is heard speaking in halting English. He blames Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for Yukawa’s beheading and pleads for his own life. He says the Islamic militants no longer want money for his release—they had been asking $200 million for him and his friend. They will spare him now, he said, in exchange for an al Qaeda female suicide bomber, Sajida al Rishawi, captured in Jordan in 2005.

“I am Kenji Goto Jogo,” he says. “You have seen the photo of my cellmate Haruna slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate. You were warned. You were given a deadline and so my captors acted upon their words. [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe, you killed Haruna. You did not take the threats of my captors seriously and you did not act within the 72 hours.”

According to the Japanese government and other sources, the video was uploaded on a jihadist web site and to YouTube sometime after 11 p.m. Japan time.

There are some oddities about Saturday’s video. It has no ISIS logo and no footage of the execution. While Goto purportedly pleads for the Japanese government to get al Rishawi released in exchange for his freedom, he speaks no Japanese at all in the audio. Moreover, the voice of the man who is presented as Goto seems different from previous news videos featuring the journalist. The delivery is strange and halting.

In a previous video released on Tuesday, the self-styled Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, threatened to kill both men within 72 hours. The deadline expired Friday.

The terrorists tied their demand to a pledge by Prime Minister Abe during a Middle East tour to give $200 million in aid for refugees displaced by the fighting in the Syrian civil war. In Tuesday’s video, the militants accused the Japanese government of funding the killing of Muslim women and children, a charge vehemently rejected by Japanese officials.

In today’s video the remaining Japanese hostage begs his wife to pressure Japan’s government. “Rinko, my beloved wife, I love you, and I miss my two daughters. Please don't let Abe do the same for my case. Don't give up. You along with our family, friends, and my colleagues in the independent press must continue to pressure our government. Their demand is easier. They are being fair. They no longer want money. So you don't need to worry about funding terrorists. “

Kenji Goto had ventured into the ISIS-controlled eastern Syrian city of Raqqa to try to help save his friend, 42-year-old Yukawa, a security contractor-turned adventurer. It is not clear why the militants have shifted their demands in his case a trade for al Rishawi, who was captured after her explosive belt failed to detonate in an attack in Amman in 2005.

Al Rishawi was the wife of Ali Hussein Ali al Shamar, who killed 38 people when he blew himself up in the middle of a wedding party at a luxury hotel in Jordan. Al Rishawi was supposed to have died in the same attack. After her capture she was shown on Jordanian television wearing the explosives and wires around her body under a loose coat. She is believed to be the sister of a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of al Qaeda in Iraq and a mentor of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She is currently appealing a death sentence imposed by a Jordanian court.

In the video, Kenji Goto says: “They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister. It is simple. You give them Sajida and I will be released. At the moment, it actually looks possible and our government (sic) are indeed a stone throw away.”

He adds: “Again, I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life. You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime and I will be released immediately. Me for her. Rinko, these could be my last hours in this world and I may be a dead man speaking. Don't let these be my last words you ever hear. Don't let Abe also kill me.”

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Because Saturday’s video has no ISIS logo, no footage of the execution, and, indeed no visible action at all, just a still of a man holding a still, there is a marked difference in style from earlier ISIS videos, and some questions have been raised about its authenticity. But in earlier cases, the ISIS executioners and their videographer accomplices were not working against a tight deadline, and in this instance they may have been concerned that producing and uploading a more polished video would have made them vulnerable to tracking by American and other intelligence services.

Most Japanese reporters who have flocked to Gaziantep and other Turkish border towns to cover the story had expected the deaths of both hostages to be announced today. The terrible twist of their colleague Kenji Goto being left alive for now and forced to hold up a photograph of the severed head of his friend resting on the corpse has horrified them. “This is disgusting,” said one. “They are just milking the tragedy to gain more publicity—but what are we meant to do, we have to cover this.”

In an emergency press conference in Tokyo, after midnight, the Japanese government announced that it was examining the images and doing voice analysis to determine the veracity of the video.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, at the press conference which was also broadcast on Japan’s public television channel NHK, discussed the posting of the video and stated: “Such a violent act is outrageous and unforgivable and we strongly condemn it. We demand that no harm be inflicted on Goto-san and that he be released immediately.”

He then announced that all Japanese ministries and government officials would be meeting to discuss what to do next.

NHK News reported that it had been be in touch with the unnamed leader of an anti-Syrian government militia group who told them, “We have information from within Syria that one of the hostages may have been killed already.”

SITE Intel Group, an organization that tracks jihadist online activity, first reported the existence of the video, which was released via Twitter accounts associated previously with ISIS. Analysts questioned why his ISIS captors decided to record him speaking English rather than Japanese; if the message was really designed to pressure the Japanese government into assisting ISIS, the lack of any spoken Japanese is odd. The most plausible explanation is they wanted to reach a wider audience that the English-speaking media world affords them.

If Yukawa’s death is confirmed, he would be the first in the series of high-profile foreign hostages to be beheaded by ISIS not from either Britain or the United States.

The executions of foreign hostages began in August with the beheading of American journalist James Foley. ISIS seems especially adept at shifting its publicity tactics and treatment of hostages to maximize media impact—presumably a reason for the change this time, leaving one captive alive and killing another.

Dettmer reported from Gaziantep while Adelstein and Angela Erika Kubo reported from Tokyo.