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Japan Awaits Hostages’ Fate After Islamic State Deadline Passes

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Japan’s government and public await the fate of two Japanese captives threatened with execution, 24 hours after the passing of a deadline on Islamic State’s demand for a $200 million ransom.

The government considered the cutoff point to have been 2:50 p.m. Tokyo time on Friday. Islamic State will release a statement “soon” on the hostages it threatened to kill if Japan doesn’t pay, public broadcaster NHK reported earlier Friday, citing an unidentified spokesman for the militant group.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the NHK report, saying that Japan would continue to do its utmost for the release of the hostages. Finance Minister Taro Aso, also deputy prime minister, told reporters that payment of the ransom would be the same as giving in to terrorism.The hostage crisis risks undermining Abe’s push for Japan to play a bigger role in world affairs and further erode support for his effort to ease pacifist constraints in the country’s constitution to broaden the role for the nation’s military. Opinion polls show a majority of Japanese are opposed to bolstering the military, even as China becomes more assertive in a territorial dispute with Japan.

The government has yet to make progress in negotiating a release of the two, the Nikkei newspaper reported today, citing an unidentified government official. It is working with countries including Jordan and Turkey to contact through religious leaders those holding the hostages, the paper said.

Islamic State made its threat in a video released Jan. 20 showing a knife-wielding masked militant between the two kneeling men threatening to kill them within 72 hours unless Japan pays the ransom — the same amount that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a few days ago to nations fighting Islamic State during a six-day Middle East trip.

No Payment

Abe told U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron by phone on Thursday that he stood by his country’s commitment not to pay ransoms, according to Cameron’s spokeswoman Helen Bower. Group of Eight leaders pledged in 2013 not to pay terrorists to free hostages.

Even so, Abe vowed this week to use “all means necessary” to free the men — self-styled security contractor Haruna Yukawa and war correspondent Kenji Goto — even as he said Japan would never cave in to terrorism. Japan has reached out for international assistance, and has set up an emergency headquarters in Amman, Jordan.

Yukawa, 42, went to the Middle East last year as he sought to reinvent himself as a soldier-of-fortune after a failed business career, a suicide attempt and the death of his wife, he wrote on his personal blog in April.

Captured in Syria

His new career as self-styled security contractor led him in July to Syria, where he was captured by Islamic State, prompting Goto, a devout Christian and acquaintance of Yukawa, to head to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo seeking his release, according to Kyodo news agency.

Goto, born in 1967, ended up himself a hostage facing the same death sentence, after leaving a video message in which he said his fate was his own responsibility.

Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, issued a statement to reporters in Tokyo on Friday pleading for the Japanese government to save her son’s life, adding that Japan is not an enemy of Islamic countries.“For the past three days I have been able to do nothing but cry with sorrow,” Ishido wrote. “Kenji always said he wanted to save the lives of children in war zones. He reported from wars from a neutral perspective.”

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