Japan says 'highly probable' new message from militants threatening to kill hostages is real

Man walks past television screens displaying a news program, about an Islamic State video showing Japanese captive Kenji Goto, on a street in Tokyo on Jan 28, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Man walks past television screens displaying a news program, about an Islamic State video showing Japanese captive Kenji Goto, on a street in Tokyo on Jan 28, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Thursday said a fresh message from Islamic militants threatening to kill Japanese and Jordanian hostages was very likely genuine.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told journalists the recording, which demands the release of a failed suicide bomber, seemed real. "We are in the process of confirming it but it is highly probable that the voice is (Kenji) Goto's," he said.

Tokyo is pleading with Amman to help rescue Mr Goto, a journalist who was taken hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In their new message posted early on Thursday Japan time, the militants demanded that Amman hand over by "sunset" female militant Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row in Jordan for her role in 2006 triple hotel bombings in Amman that killed 60 people. It said the exchange should take place at the Turkish border.

Mr Suga said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had asked "various countries, including Turkey... for their cooperation".

The latest message, apparently using Mr Goto's voice, ordered Jordan to release Rishawi in exchange for Mr Goto's life, and said the group would kill captive Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh if they did not get what they wanted.

Jordan offered on Wednesday to release Rishawi in exchange for the airman, whose release Amman has been negotiating since his capture in December.

Japan has been seeking Jordan's help in attempting to free Mr Goto particularly since an ISIS video released at the weekend said another Japanese hostage, Mr Haruna Yukawa, had been beheaded.

After initially setting a US$200 million (S$266 million) ransom for the release of Mr Yukawa and MR Goto, ISIS, which rules swathes of Syria and Iraq, changed tack and demanded that Jordan free Rishawi.