Japan's PM Abe: New threat to kill ISIS captive Kenji Goto within 24 hours is despicable

A man walking past screens displaying a news programme showing an image of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is held captive by Islamic State militants, on a street in Tokyo on Jan 25, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A man walking past screens displaying a news programme showing an image of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is held captive by Islamic State militants, on a street in Tokyo on Jan 25, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

TOKYO, Jan 28 (Reuters/AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday slammed as “utterly despicable” an Islamist militant threat to kill a Japanese hostage within 24 hours unless Jordan releases a militant bomber.

Mr Abe on Wednesday slammed the video appearing to show Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is being held by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, saying he could be killed in 24 hours.

“This was an utterly despicable act, and I am appalled,” the Japanese PM told reporters. “While we are in an extremely severe situation... the government is united to work for the early release of Mr Kenji Goto.”

“The government, in this extremely severe situation, has been asking for the Jordanian government’s cooperation towards the early release of Mr Goto, and this policy remains unchanged.”

He urged ministers to do their utmost to resolve the issue and called on them to “take all possible measures to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals at home and abroad”.

Mr Abe, in remarks at the start of a meeting of Cabinet ministers, also said he felt strong anger over the video.

A voice on the video said Mr Goto would be killed unless Jordan frees would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from death row, and that another ISIS captive, Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, has a shorter time to live than Mr Goto.

Tokyo has thrown itself on the mercy of Jordan since a video emerged at the weekend in which the extremist group announced it had murdered Haruna Yukawa, a self-employed contractor it had kidnapped in August.Moments after the new video appeared, Goto’s mother Junko Ishido said: “I think the government should do whatever it can do.”

“Kenji does not hold any animosity toward the Islamic State. He went to the Islamic State out of his extreme concern for Mr Yukawa,” she told Japanese media.  

Tokyo on Tuesday appeared to be laying the ground for what it hoped could be the release of both men, adopting the freedom of the Jordanian pilot as a cause it was working towards. “Both countries are closely cooperating towards the return of each of them to their countries,” deputy foreign minister Yasuhide Nakayama told reporters in Amman.

Jordan’s King Abdullah pledged full cooperation with Japan during a meeting with Nakayama to ensure Goto’s release, Tokyo said.

Tokyo is likely to face resistance from Washington over any kind of swap.  Asked about recent developments, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a prisoner exchange was “in the same category” as paying a ransom.

Rishawi, who is Iraqi, was sentenced to death by a Jordanian court in September 2006 for her part in triple hotel bombings in Amman the previous year that killed 60 people, mainly Jordanians. ISIS has previously beheaded two US reporters, an American aid worker and two British aid workers, and committed numerous atrocities, including mass executions, but the killing of Yukawa was the first time a Japanese national has been targeted.