Japan hostage's mother to make last minute appeal

TOKYO - The mother of one of two Japanese men being held by Islamist militants readied Friday to make a last desperate appeal for his life, with only hours before the jihadists' deadline expires.

Junko Ishido was to appear before foreign press to appeal for mercy for her journalist son, Kenji Goto who is being held by extremists in Syria or Iraq.

The Islamic State group released a video earlier this week in which Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, apparently knelt in a desert as a British-accented man loomed over them.

"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens," he said.

Tokyo believes the deadline will expire at 2.50pm (0550 GMT) on Friday.

The Islamists have linked the ransom to the amount of cash Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would be earmarking to help countries dealing with the influx of refugees fleeing fighting between IS and regular forces.

The black-clad figure said the money amounted to fighting against IS.

Part of Japan's strategy in dealing with the crisis appears to be regularly stressing the non-military, humanitarian nature of this payment.

"They are totally wrong about our position," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told journalists on Thursday.

"We wish not to fight against the world of Islam, we want to help the more than ten million refugees in the region. This is humanitarian and non-military support. We want them to understand this, and free the hostages immediately." NHK reported early Friday it had a text and audio exchange with a "public relations" official from Islamic State.

The official was quoted as saying: "Japanese are infidels fighting against Islamic State." Asked about the Japanese efforts to negotiate the release of the two hostages, he said "We cannot answer that because it isn't a good question.

"A statement will come out sometime later," he said without giving more details.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was due to speak to reporters at around 0130 GMT.

The Japanese media has rallied around Goto, a respected and experienced war reporter whose work has sought to highlight the plight of children in conflict zones.

In video footage he filmed around the time he entered Syria, he holds identification papers and his Japanese passport and explains that he is aware of the risks.

"Whatever happens, I am the one who is responsible," he says. "I am asking you, Japanese people, do not place responsibility on the people of Syria. Please. I am sure I will come back alive, though."

The IS group has previously killed three Americans and two Britons after parading them on camera, but this is the first time Japanese citizens have been threatened, and the first time a ransom demand has been made.