Japan's aid pledge likely provoked Islamic State

Japan's aid pledge likely provoked Islamic State
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Jerusalem on January 20, 2015, demanding that the Islamic State group immediately free two Japanese hostages unharmed.

CAIRO - The recent ransom demand for two Japanese hostages indicates that the Islamic State extremist group believes that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement of support for nations fighting the group means Japan has joined the United States and European countries' war against the Islamic State.

The video released online Tuesday, apparently by the Islamic State, showed two hostages in orange jumpsuits believed to be Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. A militant in the video threatened to kill the hostages unless the group received $200 million in ransom within the next 72 hours.

Amid looming fears in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in France that shocked the world, Japan has found itself in the war against terrorism, despite being located so far from the Middle East. What is the Islamic State trying to accomplish?

Japan seen as siding with West

"You [the Japanese government] have proudly donated another $100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims," the militant said in the video in English.

The message unilaterally concluded that Japan's nonmilitary support for the Middle East is the same as the airstrikes on Islamic State targets that have been carried out by a coalition of willing countries, such as the United States and European countries. It also said Japan "has willingly volunteered to take part in this crusade."

The Islamic State uses the term "crusade" when criticizing Christian society in the United States and western Europe, and labels Western allies continuing airstrikes as taking part in a crusade.

The statement in the video apparently indicates that the Islamic State sees Japan as siding with the Western allies, giving the message that anyone who cooperates with them will face the same fate.

Japan's pledged support is obviously humanitarian assistance - equating the aid to airstrikes is completely misguided. The latest incident once again sheds light on the group's barbarity as it attempts to push through such logic.

Value of hostages

In June last year the Islamic State seized Mosul in northern Iraq, and quickly expanded its influence in such countries as Iraq and Syria. The militant group then faced airstrikes by a coalition of the United States, European countries and others, as well as counterattacks by Iraqi troops. The tides of war ebb and flow, but the group's power has been stifled for the time being.

According to Hassan Abu Taleb, editor-in-chief of Egyptian weekly magazine October, the Islamic State is facing an uphill battle and is trying to undermine the international alliance formed by the Western countries, Japan and other nations by threatening to kill the Japanese hostages.

The two Japanese hostages are believed to have been captured in August and November last year, at about the same time the Islamic State started to lose its initial power. As the group sought ways to regain its strength, it was apparently waiting for a chance to make the best use of the Japanese hostages, with whom it had yet to decide what to do. Then came Abe's visit to the Middle East, which apparently provided them with a window of opportunity.

During a speech in Cairo on Saturday, Abe said to much applause that Japan has a tremendous role to play. An Egyptian government source close to diplomatic activities with Western countries said Abe's statement was apparently connected to some degree with the recent incident, adding that Japan entered the Islamic State's crosshairs after pledging to proactively cooperate in isolating the radical group.

Islamic State, Al-Qaida in tug-of-war?

Some observers believe the Islamic State targeted Japan because of its ongoing tug-of-war with the international terrorist organization Al-Qaida, which is believed to be in conflict with the Islamic State.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the fatal shootings at political weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this month in a video posted online. Among Islamic radical militants, gun attacks are regarded as praiseworthy acts - so the incident apparently forced the Islamic State to take a backseat.

In light of these developments, a political observer in Jordan said the Islamic State may have targeted Japan in such a shocking way because it aims to strongly convey to the world its position as a key player among Islamic forces confronting the United States and European countries, as well as gain an edge over Al-Qaida.

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