Japan considering all available channels to seek release of IS-held hostages as ransom deadline looms

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TOKYO: The Japanese government on Thursday has desperately being looking into all and every possible channels available to it in a bid to negotiate with Islamic State (IS) militants on the release of two Japanese nationals being held to ransom, before a 72-hour deadline imposed by the group expires.

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An IS member, who appeared in a video uploaded to the YouTube video-hosting site on Tuesday wielding a knife as Kenji Goto, 47, a freelance journalist from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, and Haruna Yukawa, 42, a security contractor from Chiba Prefecture, knelt shackled in orange jumpsuits, demanded that Japan pay a ransom of US$ 200 million (23.6 billion yen) for the lives of the hostages, the same amount pledged by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a speech given in Cairo on Saturday.

During the speech, Abe said that Japan would support global anti- Islamic State efforts and contribute to the countries involved in the campaign.

The Prime Minister also said Japan would provide support to Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

In the video, the masked militant decked out in black combat gear, addressed Abe directly stating that the Japanese leader had, “willingly volunteered to take part in this crusade,” and had, “proudly donated US$ 100 million to kill our women and children and to destroy the homes of Muslims.”

The other US$ 100 million demanded by the IS member on behalf of the group was for Japan allegedly contributing a further US$ 100 million in international efforts to curb the expansion of IS.

But as the clock ticks down following the initial demand being made Tuesday, with the IS member saying in the video the two Japanese citizens will be killed when the three-day deadline expires Friday, officials in Tokyo have yet to confirm whether they have managed to establish contact with the group and negotiate the release of the hostages, or mediate some kind of extension on the deadline.

In a press conference earlier Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment whether the safety of the hostages had been confirmed, or whether there had been any further contact from IS since the video was posted to the popular YouTube site on Tuesday.

The foreign ministry here said that officials, including Abe, had been ardently trying to make contact with the militants through a number of channels, comprising, but not limited to, notable Muslim leaders as well as tribal factions in Syria, although the prime minister himself has stated that Japan will not give in to terrorism.

Abe cut short a six-day tour of the Middle East and returned to Japan Wednesday and has not only refused to give in to the terrorist’s demands, but also pledged Japan’s continuing humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict in regions held by IS.

The Prime Minister has said that Japan’s support has and will continue to be humanitarian and not military and confirmed Japan’s position on the matter in talks earlier Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose office confirmed to local media that Abe stood resolutely behind a pledge made by Group of Eight leaders in 2013 to not pay ransom demands to free hostages.

Along with Britain, foreign ministries of the United States, France, Italy and Iran have also offered Japan their unwavering support to help secure the early release of the hostages, with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, currently in London with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani for bilateral security talks, confirming to the press there and British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, that Japan would deal with the situation “resolutely,” while, and, as advised by Fallon, bracing for future “incidents.”

The foreign ministry here also said that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also offered his support to Japan by telephone to Abe, with Abbott saying in a statement that Australia, “stands with Japan as it faces this horrifying situation.” Abbott also called on the captors to release the two men and “all other hostages,” adding that Japan and Australia, “will never sacrifice our values and our freedom in the face of terrorism.”

Ko Nakata, 54, an expert on Islamic law and former professor at Kyoto’s Doshisha University, who in a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan earlier Thursday, urged IS leaders to extend the deadline, offering himself as a mediator between both sides.

“Seventy-two hours is just too short. Please wait just a bit longer, and do not try to take action immediately. If there is room to talk, I’m ready to go and negotiate,” Nakata, a former Islamic specialist at the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia, said at the press club in Tokyo, in both Japanese and Arabic.

He went on to ask the militant group to better explain to Japan its intentions and to allow the Japanese government more time to consider its response and make a counter proposal.

Nakata also suggested that Japan could make a US$ 200 million contribution to humanitarian initiatives in IS controlled areas, through the Red Crescent Society.

Along with Nakata, Kosuke Tsuneoka, a journalist and former hostage in Afghanistan, said he was prepared to go to Syria to negotiate with IS, but the situation is a complex one as the pair have both been questioned by police here for their connections with IS, and on suspicions of trying to help a college student gain passage to Syria to fight with the group.

Nakata said he was in touch with Umar Grabar, a spokesperson for IS, but communication had been hampered by police surveillance.

On Nagata and Tsuneoka’s offer to negotiate with IS, Suga in spite of the controversy surrounding the pair, said Japan would, “consider all available options.” PNA

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