Japan condemns apparent ISIS execution, demands hostage release

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Japan condemns apparent ISIS execution, demands hostage release
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on February 1, 2015. Japan said it was 'outraged' after the Islamic State group released a video purportedly showing the beheading of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
According to a Tokyo-based Islamic scholar who briefly became an intermediary, Japan's government opened a communication channel with Islamic State in the decisive stages of its recent hostage crisis but was unwilling to use it to start negotiations.
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 10: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) is seen prior to a cabinet meeting at his official residence on February 10, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. The Abe Cabinet approved a new 'development cooperation charter' that will allow Japan to extend economic assistance to foreign militaries for the first time. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 10: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (2nd R) and other members attend the first meeting to examine the Japanese hostage crisis by the Islamic State militant group at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence on February 10, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 10: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) is seen prior to a cabinet meeting at his official residence on February 10, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. The Abe Cabinet approved a new 'development cooperation charter' that will allow Japan to extend economic assistance to foreign militaries for the first time. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Akira Kitagawa, head of Japanese publishing company Dai-san Shokan speaks next to books titled 'Are You Charlie? Isuramu heito ka fushi ka (Is it satire or hate against Islam)' at his office in Tokyo on February 10, 2015. Dai-san Shokan on February 10 issued 3,000 copies of a book of cartoons by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, including controversial drawings of Mohammed. 'Are You Charlie? Isuramu heito ka fushi ka (Is it satire or hate against Islam)' is an attempt to spark debate in Japan on the nature of free speech, said Akira Kitagawa, the head of Tokyo-based Dai-san Shokan. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
AMMAN, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 02: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Jordanian youth gather for a candle light vigil to condemn the killing of the two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, by the Islamic State in front of the Japanese Embassy on February 2, 2015 in Amman, Jordan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterates that Japan will never forgive terrorists, try to make them atone, a day after the video of Journalist Kenji Goto execution was posted. Abe also emphasises to provide support in the Middle East, denied the direct involvement to the U.S-lead military campaign against the Islamic State. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 08: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) People holding signs remembering Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa gather on February 8, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. Around Japan, hundreds of people gathered at events to remember freelance journalist Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, a company operator. Participants came with signs that read 'I am Kenji' and 'I am Haruna.' On the previous two weekends, the Islamic State released videos depicting what appeared to be the decapitated bodies of the two Japanese hostages. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves his official residence in Tokyo after a cabinet meeting on January 25, 2015. Japan's government said it was attempting to verify a video posted online announcing the execution of one of two Japanese hostages held captive by Islamic State militants. 'A new video apparently showing Kenji (Goto) was posted on the Internet,' chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said. 'We are collecting information'. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida leaves prime minister's official residence in Tokyo after a cabinet meeting on January 25, 2015. Japan's government said it was attempting to verify a video posted online announcing the execution of one of two Japanese hostages held captive by Islamic State militants. 'A new video apparently showing Kenji (Goto) was posted on the Internet,' chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said. 'We are collecting information'. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speakes to reporters after a cabinet meeting at his official residence in Tokyo on January 25, 2015. Japan's government said it was attempting to verify a video posted online announcing the execution of one of two Japanese hostages held captive by Islamic State militants. 'A new video apparently showing Kenji (Goto) was posted on the Internet,' chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said. 'We are collecting information'. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists listen to a police press attache (R) speaking outside of the residence of the parents of Haruna Yukawa, one of Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State group, in Chiba, suburban Tokyo on January 25, 2015. Japan's government said late on January 24 it was attempting to verify a video posted online announcing the execution of Yukawa. The nearly three-minute recording shows a still image of Kenji Goto holding an apparent photograph of Haruna Yukawa's slain body, with an audio recording in which Goto spoke of the IS group's demand for a prisoner exchange to guarantee his release. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called the apparent killing of a Japanese captive by Islamic State militants "outrageous and impermissible," and again called for the release of a Japanese journalist being held by the group.

Abe, speaking to public broadcaster NHK, said chances were high that a recording and an image of what appeared to be the decapitated body of Japanese captive Harman Yukawa, which emerged late on Saturday, were authentic.

Abe also called for the immediate release of the remaining Japanese captive, reporter Kenji Goto, and said he was putting top priority on saving Goto's life.

But he reiterated that Japan would not give in to terrorism.

"Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible, which causes me nothing but strong indignation," Abe said.

"Again, I strongly demand that Mr. Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released. The government of Japan will, in its entirety, do its utmost in order to have him released."

ISIS Video Claims 1 of 2 Japanese Hostages Beheaded

The sudden escalation of the hostage crisis has become a test for Abe and the dominant news story in Japan since Tuesday when Islamic State militants released a video showing Goto and Yukawa kneeling with a knife-wielding, masked man demanding a $200 million ransom for their release. The 72-hour deadline set in the first video expired on Friday.

In the apparent recording, Goto says Yukawa was "slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate." But the journalist said the Japanese government could save him by working through Jordan where Abe earlier this week set up an office to coordinate the government's response to the hostage situation.

Goto says the militants would release him in exchange for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi held in Jordan. He says the militants have dropped the ransom demand.

Abe told NHK that he had spoken to Jordan's King Abdullah about the situation but he had no comment on the Islamic State demand for the release of al-Rishawi.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the brutal murder of Yukawa in a statement released by the White House, which did not address how Washington had confirmed his killing.

The Obama statement, issued while he was en route to India, said: "The United States strongly condemns the brutal murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa by the terrorist group ISIL," using an acronym to refer to Islamic State.

In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also said Washington "strongly condemns ISIL's despicable murder of an innocent Japanese citizen, Haruna Yukawa."

HUMANITARIAN AID

Yukawa, 42, was seized by militants in August, after going to Syria in what he described as a plan to launch a security company. Goto, 47, a veteran war correspondent, went into Syriain late October seeking to secure Yukawa's release, according to friends and business associates.

The new recording, which was released on YouTube late on Saturday before being deleted, showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt with audio of what appeared to be him making a statement in English.

"I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life," the recording says. "You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her."

Al-Rishawi was arrested shortly after she failed to blow herself up in one of three deadly hotel bombings that hit the Jordanian capital in 2005.

Japanese officials have said little about how they were looking to secure the release of the captives over the past week.

In recent years, Japan has moved toward the U.S. government's hard line against paying ransoms after a 1977 case in which it paid $6 million to Japanese Red Army hijackers. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said last week that responding to demands set by the Islamic State would mean "giving in to terrorism".

Japan's pacifist constitution also rules out any military response. A briefing paper prepared for Abe's office on Friday and reviewed by Reuters said Japan would not have the legal authority to strike the Islamic State even after proposed legislation loosening military restrictions that the prime minister is seeking to pass later this year.

Abe and other officials have said Japan will press ahead with plans to offer over $200 million in humanitarian aid to help deal with refugees displaced by Islamic State.

Abe announced that aid a week ago in Cairo during a trip through the Middle East when he also called Islamic State a threat to the region and the international order.

Abe told NHK that Japan did not intend to join the U.S.-led military operation against Islamic State in the Middle East but wanted to continue to provide humanitarian aid.

The Islamic State has executed five British and American aid workers and journalists in recent months. Yukawa's capture by Islamic State fighters outside Aleppo in August was the first time a Japanese citizen has been held by the group.

Goto's mother, who had appeared before reporters on Friday in an emotional plea for his release, said she remained hopeful.

"The Japanese government will not let my son down. He will come back," Junko Ishido told reporters.

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