'Kenji is not an enemy of Islam': Japan hostage mother

TOKYO - The mother of one of the Japanese men being held by Islamist militants urged the Tokyo government to pay the jihadists’ ransom Friday and pleaded that her son’s life be spared.

Just hours before the extremists’ deadline expires, Junko Ishido said freelance journalist Kenji Goto was a friend of Islam, whose life had been devoted to helping children in war zones.

“I say to you people of the Islamic State, Kenji is not your enemy. Please release him,” she said.

“Kenji was always saying ‘I hope to save lives of children on battlefields’. He was reporting war from a neutral position.”

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 stood over them brandishing a knife.

“You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the US$200 million (S$266 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.

Asked by a journalist if she thinks Tokyo should pay the ransom, as it has in previous hostage situations, Ishido said: “Yes, I very much hope so.” “Japan has maintained a friendly relationship with Islamic nations.

“The time remaining is scarce. I beg you Japanese government officials, please save Kenji’s life.”

‘Gentle heart’

Ishido, who was identified as Goto’s birth mother, said she had learned Thursday that his wife had given birth two weeks ago when the two spoke on the telephone for the first time.

“Kenji left for the IS with a gentle heart hoping to save a life of his Japanese colleague,” she said, referring to reports that Goto had been on a mercy mission to rescue Yukawa.

“He didn’t care about his safety because he believed he and people of IS would be able to understand each other, as members of the global community.” She also said she has had no contact at all with the Japanese government since video of Goto and Yukawa emerged on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday that the government was still making every effort to secure the hostages’ release.

“We have received offers of cooperation from various countries,” he said. “We are continuing to analyse information”.

Asked whether Japan would pay the ransom, Kishida demurred.

“We will not give in to terrorism. We will fight against terrorism in cooperation with other countries,” he said.

NHK reported early Friday it had a text and audio exchange with a “public relations” official from Islamic State.

The representative 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.

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.