As the Islamic State tries to widen its grip on the Middle East, the latest country to be brought into the fray is Japan, which has two of its citizens held as hostages in the hands of ISIS militants in Syria.
To make matters worse, the terrorists have given the Japanese government an ultimatum. They want a ransom of $200 million to be paid within 72 hours to secure the release of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa who are seen in a new video wearing orange jumpsuits and kneeling in the desert.
Even the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was in Jerusalem on the latest leg of his current Middle East tour, demanded that the jihadists immediately free the two hostages before cutting his tour short to return to Japan to deal with the crisis.
Since August 2014, ISIS has executed six western hostages, but this is the first time the group has brought Japan into the picture.
As the ISIS militant, who stood between the Japanese captives, said in English, “You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens.”
The Guardian reported today that, according to the same man, the ransom demand is to compensate for non-military aid that the Japanese prime minister pledged to support countries affected by ISIS violence at the start of his Middle East tour.
For his part, Prime Minister Abe said to reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem, “I strongly demand that they not be harmed and that they be immediately released. The international community will not give in to terrorism and we have to make sure that we work together.”
The militant in the new video, who may be the same man who featured in the execution videos of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, took a similar stance relating to the hostages as he has done in the past.
One of the captives, Kenji Goto, is a freelance journalist who set up a video production company, called Independent Press in Tokyo in 1996, feeding video documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks.
The other hostage, Haruna Yukawa, has previously featured in an ISIS video, being roughly interrogated by ISIS militants.
It is possible that, despite the denials, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will secretly agree to some form of ransom payment to secure the release of the captives as it is rumored other countries have done in the past.