TOKYO - The government is doing everything in its power to confirm the facts related to newly posted video footage of men believed to be Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa - both taken hostage by the Islamic State - that seems to show Goto holding a photo of what appears to be Yukawa's body.
The hostage crisis took a new turn when footage was released online shortly after 11 p.m. on Saturday, about four days after the militant group posted a separate video threatening to kill Goto and Yukawa if the Japanese government failed to pay a ransom of $200 million.
Government sources say that since the release of the first video, Japan has sought cooperation from Jordan, Turkey and other neighbouring nations, as well as religious and tribal leaders thought to have direct access to the Islamic State, to urge the immediate release of the two Japanese nationals.
However, some observers believe negotiations will be difficult, as the Islamic State has previously killed US and British hostages.
As part of efforts to stress international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the Japanese government will maintain the hard-line stance of not paying ransom in principle that it has pledged since the Islamic State released the first video on Tuesday.
The government believes that paying will only encourage more kidnappings.
According to the second video released Saturday, the Islamic State has dropped its ransom demand and is now pressing for the release of a female suicide bomber on death row in Jordan, one of the perpetrators of the Amman terrorism bombings in November 2005.
Observers say the Islamic State is believed to have changed its ultimatum to the release of a member imprisoned in Jordan because the Japanese government rejected the ransom demand.
Seeking help abroad
The government has reportedly asked for cooperation from Turkey, Jordan and other countries regarding negotiations with the Islamic State.
Turkey is believed to have succeeded in having its hostages safely freed by the Islamic State through the exchange of prisoners.
In light of the latest demand by the Islamic State, the government is expected to make another request for assistance from Jordan.
The government held an urgent meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers early Sunday, likely discussing the handling of the situation including future measures.
Prior to the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe phoned King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday evening - the second round of telephone talks since the two Japanese men were held captive. They likely discussed measures for the early release of the two hostages.
The government has asked a number of countries for assistance in contacting the Islamic State to secure their release, and Jordan, one of the nations on the front lines of the fight against the extremist group, is likely to be near the top of that list.
Regarding contact between the Japanese government and the Islamic State, Abe aide Yosuke Isozaki said on a BS Nippon TV programme that "it was not the case that the government had not received any response in an indirect sense," implying the government has attempted contact through a mediator.
Crisis a test for Abe
But the government has yet to obtain information about the safety of the hostages and any prospects regarding their release.
According to sources close to the government, various details concerning the hostages were conveyed to the government from relevant countries and influential tribal leaders, but their credibility was difficult to confirm.
A senior government official said Saturday that the government is analysing and closely scrutinizing the information.
Following the Japan-Jordan summit telephone conference, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida discussed possible measures with top ministerial officials at the ministry.
"We contacted Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama in Jordan and affirmed various movements, including the telephone conference. We discussed future measures," Kishida told reporters after the meeting held at midnight Saturday.
The Abe administration would suffer a heavy blow if Yukawa's death is confirmed, given its all-out efforts to secure the release of the hostages.
Some are criticising Abe for his Jan. 17 announcement during his Middle East tour of $200 million in humanitarian aid to the nations fighting the Islamic State.
The aid is thought to have been misinterpreted by the extremist group, which named the same amount in their ransom demand.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga strongly rejected such criticism, firing back, "[The pledged aid] is nonmilitary support, so it is unreasonable to connect it with the ongoing situation."