ISIS has released another of its notorious hostage videos, with the masked English-speaking terrorist known as “Jihad John” brandishing a knife and issuing death threats against hostages clad in orange jumpsuits. In this case, the two hostages are Japanese, identified by their captors as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa. It is said that they will be killed unless the Japanese government pays $200 million in ransom within 72 hours.
As the UK Daily Mail reports, the ransom figure mirrors the $200 million Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged in “non-military support for countries fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” primarily taking the form of assistance to civilians displaced by the war. Jihad John directly addresses Abe in the video, as transcribed by the Daily Mail:
To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,000 and 500 kilometres (5,280 miles) from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade.
You have proudly donated $100 million to kill our women and children – to destroy the homes of the Muslims.
So the life of this (points knife at Kenji Goto Jogo) Japanese citizen will cost you $100 million.
And in an attempt to stop the expansion of the Islamic State, you also donated another $100 million to train the mujahideen against the mujahideen.
And so the life of this (points knife at Haruna Yukawa) Japanese citizen will cost you another $100 million.
And to the Japanese public: Just as your government has made the foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State, 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.
Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare.
The video, below:
Prime Minister Abe, for his part, declared that his nation would not submit to terrorist demands, and would not retract his pledge of support for the anti-ISIS coalition: “I strongly demand that they not be harmed and that they be immediately released. The international community will not give in to terrorism and we have to make sure that we work together.”
Despite this defiant statement, it is not clear whether Abe’s government will pay the ransom, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga pledged to “make our utmost effort to win [Jogo and Yukawa’s] release as soon as possible.”
The Daily Mail profiles the two hostages extensively, describing Yukawa as a “military consultant” who traveled to the conflict zone seeking purpose for his life after his wife’s death from cancer. So traumatic was this loss that Yukawa not only attempted suicide, but at one point spoke of castrating himself to “live as a woman and leave the rest to destiny.”
The UK Independent observes that “it was not clear exactly what he was doing in the region,” but it appears Yukawa was attempting to launch a corporate security firm – he describes himself as the “chief executive” of a “private military company” on his Facebook page – and might have been looking to build credibility for himself by training and fighting alongside the Syrian resistance. He was apparently well-aware of the risks when he traveled through Syria in the company of the Free Syrian Army, generally described as the most potent “moderate” element of the rebellion against Bashar Assad’s dictatorship, but was nevertheless captured by ISIS. Yukawa appeared in a previous video that showed him beaten bloody by his captors.
As for Goto, he is a freelance journalist who befriended Yukawa last year and helped him travel to Iraq. He made a living capturing footage from hot spots and selling it to Japanese media, as well as writing books about his experiences. He was apparently captured near the besieged Kurdish city of Kobani in October. Someone claiming to represent ISIS contacted Goto’s wife in November and demanded an $8.5 million ransom; the email was traced to one of the Islamic State militants responsible for the murder of American journalist James Foley.
The New York Post theorizes that selling Western hostages for ransom could be interpreted as an act of desperation from ISIS, which has previously preferred to murder its captives on-camera after making political demands. They note that the video is the first time that the Islamic State has threatened the lives of hostages while asking for money, rather than simply announcing the imminent death of the hostage paraded on screen. The Post notes that the move comes “amid recent losses for the extremists targeted in airstrikes by a US-led coalition.”
While it is true that the Islamic State has not explicitly made a ransom demand in its high-profile hostage videos before, ransom obtained more quietly has long been part of ISIS’s finances. There are fears that more hostages will be taken if lucrative ransom demands are met. Just yesterday, a pair of Italian women were released by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, with Arab media reporting that a huge cash ransom was paid by the Italian government for their safety.
This led to furious criticism from Italian opposition leaders, with opposition leaders calling the payment of ransom a “disgusting” submission to terrorist demands, and worrying that “thousands of others, equally valuable, would be put at risk” because ransom payment “would encourage terrorists, illegitimate entities like the so-called caliphate, and simple criminals to take Italians hostage, wherever they may be.” Payments twenty times as large to secure the release of two Japanese hostages could make the kidnapping business model seem even more attractive.