ISIS video of executed Japanese hostage puts conservative PM Abe on the spot

ISIS has issued (and then deleted) a video showing an image of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto holding an image showing the decapitated body of Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa.  The video contained a demand that Japan obtain the release of a Jordanian terrorist held captive in that country, as a condition for the release of the remaining hostage Goto.

Reiji Yoshida writes in the Japan Times:

In the photo, Goto is holding a composite of two images. In one of them, Yukawa is kneeling on the ground. The other image appears to show his decapitated body. The photo, if authentic, suggests Yukawa was executed after a 72-hour ransom deadline imposed by the terrorist group expired at 2:50 p.m. Friday Japan time. (snip)

The video released Saturday night was accompanied by the voice of a man who identified himself as Goto.

“I am Kenji Goto Jogo. You have seen the photo of my cellmate Haruna slaughtered in the land of the Islamic caliphate,” the voice said in accented English in the video.

“You were warned,” the voice said. “You were given a deadline and so my captors acted upon their words.

“Abe, you killed Haruna. You did not take the threat of my captors seriously. And you did not act within that 72 hours.

“Their demand is easier. They are being fair. They no longer want money. So you do not need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi,” the voice said.

“It is simple. You give them Sajida and I will be released.”

Al-Rishawi, reportedly an Iraqi, was the wife of Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, who, together with two other suicide bombers killed 57 people during a wedding party at the Amman Radisson hotel in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. Al-Rishawi also took part in the attack, but survived because the belt she was wearing containing explosives failed to detonate.

The situation has thrown Japanese media, which typically practices pack journalism even more than American media, into a tizzy.  Prime Minister Abe’s opponents are placing blame on his shoulders for taking a more active role in support of the war on terror and thereby providing incitement for ISIS to attack Japanese targets, who otherwise (they hypothesize) would escape harm.

Abe’s efforts to move away from its passive role in world affairs and constitutional prohibitions on exercising military force long have aggravated Japan’s powerful left wing forces, including much of its media.  Now, they have a martyr whose death they can blame on Abe’s “adventurism.” For his part, Abe is placing the blame on ISIS. Kyodo News Service reports:


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned on Sunday a hostage-taking group claiming to be the Islamic State after an image apparently showing one of the two Japanese held by the militant group holding a photo of the other hostage decapitated was posted on the Internet.

"It's outrageous," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office. "The photo showed Mr. Haruna Yukawa was killed. It's an unforgivable act of violence. We demand an immediate release of Mr. Kenji Goto without hurting him."

This political battle brings a more powerful personal dimension to the ongoing debate on Japan’s role in world affairs. The Japanese have strong feelings about the suffering of innocent victims, and Abe will suffer from being blamed as the cause of the death of Yukawa and potentially Goto. It is hard to see how Japan could even obtain the release of al-Rishawi. The Japan Times notes:

Fumikazu Nishitani, a freelance journalist who represents a nongovernmental group helping children in Iraq, argued that Jordan will encounter “very high” political hurdles if it decides to release al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto.

Al-Rishawi took part in a failed attack on a wedding party at the Amman Radisson Hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in 2005. She survived the attack when her explosive belt failed to go off. She and three male bombers attacked three hotels, reportedly killing 57 people.

At the time, Nishitani was in Amman to cover the suicide bombings as a journalist.

Those attacks outraged the Jordanians, so releasing the woman for a Japanese hostage will present a very tough decision for the Jordanian government, Nishitani said.

Jordan is desperately trying to save a young Jordanian Air Force pilot also being held by the Islamic Stage group, and releasing al-Rishawi in exchange was considered one potential option.

Releasing the woman for the sake of Mr. Goto alone would be “unacceptable” for Jordan, Nishitani pointed out.

There is no easy way out for Abe. It will be fascinating, if tragic, to watch this unfold. There is a powerful sentiment in Japan that is essentially isolationist: If Japan doesn’t take any active role, it will be left alone by the rest of the world. The bitter fruits of World War II continue to poison the appetite for involvement in world politics.