Japan continues efforts at contacting IS as ransom deadline passes

Japan continues efforts at contacting IS as ransom deadline passes

The 72-hour deadline for ransom appeared to have passed Friday afternoon as the government continued all-out efforts for the release of two Japanese nationals taken hostage by a group believed to be the Islamic State.

The government considered 2.50pm Friday in Tokyo to be the deadline set by the group, given that the government confirmed at about 2.50pm Tuesday the existence of an online video in which the group threatened to kill the two Japanese men - Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa - within 72 hours unless a ransom of US$200 million (S$270 million), or about ¥23.7 billion, is paid.

"The situation is still difficult, but we'll do our utmost to ensure the release of the hostages as soon as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference at about 4 p.m Friday. He added that the government has not received any new messages from the Islamic State.

The government tried all possible channels, including tribal leaders in the Middle East, to contact the Islamic militant group to realise the release of the hostages. The government also requested support from many countries at the United Nations.

At an unofficial Cabinet meeting on Friday morning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Cabinet members "to make every possible effort for freeing the two as soon as possible."

In the afternoon, the government held a meeting of the National Security Council at the Prime Minister's Office, which was attended by Abe, Suga, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and other government officials, to discuss how to handle the hostage crisis.

Suga did not make clear whether the government had made contact with the Islamic State.

Regarding the safety of Goto, 47, and Yukawa, 42, Suga said earlier Friday at a different press conference, "We have various information, but have not confirmed [the safety of the two]."

In Amman, meanwhile, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who heads a local headquarters set up to deal with the hostage crisis, told reporters early Friday he is transmitting a message through every possible means that aid pledged by the government is for nonmilitary purposes.

"I believe that they [the hostage-takers] will understand that," he said.

The US$200 million in humanitarian aid was announced by Abe during his recent Middle East tour.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Gen Nakatani spoke by phone with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday morning and requested cooperation from the United States. Hagel was quoted as telling Nakatani that the United States will cooperate with Japan by all possible means to rescue the two hostages.

In New York, Yoshifumi Okamura, deputy permanent representative of Japan to the United Nations, delivered a speech during a meeting of the UN General Assembly around noon on Thursday. He denounced the latest hostage incident, saying making threats by using human lives as a shield is never forgivable and that he feels strong outrage.

Okamura added Japan requests support from the United Nations and its member states.

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