TOKYO - It is an unlikely friendship that ties the fates of war correspondent Kenji Goto and troubled loner Haruna Yukawa, the two Japanese hostages for whom Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants demanded a US$200 million (S$267 million) ransom earlier this week.
Mr Yukawa, 42, was captured in August outside the Syrian city of Aleppo. Mr Goto, 47, who had returned to Syria in late October to try to help his friend, has been missing since then.
For Mr Yukawa, who dreamed of becoming a military contractor, travelling to Syria had been part of an effort to turn his life around after going bankrupt, losing his wife to cancer and attempting suicide, according to associates and his own accounts. A unit at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been seeking information on him since August, people involved in that effort said.
Mr Goto's disappearance had not been reported until Tuesday's video, apparently showing him and Mr Yukawa kneeling next to a masked ISIS militant.
Mr Yukawa first met Mr Goto in Syria in April, and asked him to take him to Iraq. He wanted to know how to operate in a conflict zone, and they went in June.
But Mr Yukawa was captured by a local Syrian militia, Bloomberg said. He was released after Mr Goto intervened.
Mr Yukawa returned to Syria in July on his own.
"He was hapless and didn't know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him," Mr Goto told Reuters in Tokyo in August.
Mr Yukawa was captured again weeks after he returned to Syria, Bloomberg said. This time, his captors were from ISIS.
Mr Yukawa's abduction in August haunted Mr Goto, who felt he had to do something to help the man, a few years his junior.
"I need to go there at least once and see my fixers, and ask them what the current situation is. I need to talk to them face to face. I think that's necessary," Mr Goto said, referring to locals who work freelance for foreign correspondents, setting up meetings and helping with the language.
Mr Goto, who converted to Christianity in 1997, also spoke of his faith in the context of his job. "I have seen horrible places and have risked my life, but I know that somehow God will always save me," he said in a May article for a Japanese publication.
But he told the same publication that he never risked anything dangerous.
In October, Mr Goto's wife had a baby, the couple's second child. He has an older daughter from a previous marriage, people who know the family said.
Around the same time, he made plans to leave for Syria. On Oct 22, he e-mailed an acquaintance to say he planned to be back in Japan at the end of the month.
Friends say Mr Goto travelled from Tokyo to Istanbul, and travelled from there to Syria, sending a message on Oct 25 that he had crossed the border and was safe.
"Whatever happens, this is my responsibility," Mr Goto said in a video recorded shortly before he set out for Raqqa, the capital of ISIS.
That was the last time he was seen, before the ISIS video this week.