The release of a Japanese hostage by Daesh appears to rest on an exchange for a convicted terrorist held in Jordan, Japanese media reported Monday.
As the Japanese government appeared to accept the death of one of the two hostages held by the militant group over the weekend, the focus shifted to Jordan, where Iraqi Sajida al-Rishawi is awaiting execution over a series of bomb attacks on Amman hotels in 2005 that killed 57 people.
At the weekend, a video was released in which Japanese journalist Kenji Goto holds a photograph that seems to show the body of fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa and a voice, thought to be Goto's, described how he was "slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate."
Goto, 47, adds that his captors had dropped their demand for a $200 million ransom, asking instead for the release of al-Rishawi.
He apparently says: "They no longer want money. You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime and I will be released. Don't let [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe kill me."
Abe said Monday that Japan will use "all possible means" to secure Goto’s release "by seeking cooperation with other countries," according to Kyodo News.
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference that the premier had instructed his Cabinet to make every effort to secure Goto’s safety.
Referring to the audio message accompanying the image, he added, "Experts are analyzing it but the government cannot deny [that the voice is Goto's]. It's highly likely the case."
Although Abe had hedged his comments with phrases such as "highly likely," doubt about the authenticity of the Daesh tape has dissipated and been replaced by sorrow for Yukawa, 42, and concern for Goto.
Daesh radio station Al-Bayan broadcast Sunday news that Yukawa had been killed.
"The U.S. intelligence community has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video," a spokesman for the U.S. director of National Intelligence said. U.S. President Barack Obama has also condemned the killing, specifically mentioning Yukawa by name.
Meanwhile, Abe was in close touch over the weekend with King Abdullah II of Jordan amid speculation the monarch might consider releasing al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto and Mass al-Kassasbeh, a Jordanian Air Force pilot whose plane was downed near Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria, on Dec. 24.
Early in the crisis, Abe had established a crisis center in Amman, the Jordanian capital, headed by a vice minister from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Five British and U.S. hostages have been beheaded in Daesh videos since Aug. 19. The group also holds British journalist John Cantlie and a 26-year-old American female aid worker.
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