TOKYO - One of the two hostages that militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatened on Tuesday to kill - if ransom money was not paid - had been sold out by a fixer.
It emerged yesterday that the captive identified by ISIS as Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old freelance broadcast journalist, was betrayed by a guide who accompanied him to Syria.
Mr Goto told an acquaintance in Turkey that he was later captured by a military group, the Mainichi Shimbun reported, citing unnamed government sources.
A few days later, the journalist's family in Tokyo received an e-mail message from a self-proclaimed ISIS member demanding some 2 billion yen (S$22.7 million) in ransom money, the paper added.
Hiromasa Nakai, chief spokesman for the Japan Committee for the United Nations Children's Fund, insisted that Mr Goto was a peace- loving man.
He "has been working hard for children in the Islamic world - not only in Syria but also in Afghanistan, Somalia and many other places", he told AFP.
"It's an extreme shock to us. We hope he will return safe."
Mr Goto's video production company has supplied documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks, including public broadcaster NHK. He had apparently been out of contact since late October after telling family that he intended to return to Japan, NHK reported.
In footage posted on extremist websites on Tuesday, a black-clad militant brandishing a knife addresses the camera in English with a British accent, standing between two hostages wearing orange jumpsuits identified as Mr Goto and military contractor Haruna Yukawa, 42.
"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the US$200 million (S$270 million) to save the lives of your citizens," he says.
However, many experts in the field believe the video may have been doctored. They said images of the hostages taken separately were likely combined into a single video to make the footage more intimidating.
Commentators noted apparent discrepancies in the way shadows fell, the movement of the two men's clothes and the fact that neither appears to flinch as their captor waves a big knife near their heads.
"Experts are analysing them (the video images)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference yesterday morning, although he did not address the speculation.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that he would not bow to "terrorism".
"This is a very tough race against time, but the government will do its utmost," he told reporters. "I have ordered the government to use all diplomatic channels and routes possible...to ensure the release of the two people."
The prime minister, who rushed home from his tour of the Middle East, said he had sought help from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, as well as from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Japan will never yield to terrorism. Japan will do its best in the battle against the cowardice of terrorism, hand in hand with the international community," Mr Abe said.