Japan vows not to give up on 2 hostages till 'the very end'

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Japan vows not to give up on 2 hostages till 'the very end'
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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TOKYO (AP) - Japan promised Saturday not to give up "until the very end" on efforts to free two Japanese hostages threatened with beheading by Islamic militants demanding a $200 million ransom, after a deadline passed with no word from the captors.

Militants affiliated with the Islamic State group posted an online warning Friday afternoon that the "countdown has begun" for the extremists to kill 47-year-old Kenji Goto and 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa. The extremists had set a 72-hour deadline for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to pay the ransom, or the hostages would be killed, in an online video posted Tuesday.

Friday's posting, which appeared on a forum popular among Islamic State militants and sympathizers, did not show any images of the hostages, who are believed to be held somewhere in Syria.

Yasuhide Nakayama, a deputy foreign minister sent to Amman, Jordan, said he was working around the clock to coordinate efforts to save the hostages.

"We will not rule out any possibility, and we are verifying all information thoroughly," he said. "We will not give up. I believe it is my duty to ensure we will definitely get them back home, and I will do my utmost to do so."

Yet, the fate of the two men remained unclear Saturday.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Japan was analyzing the second message.

"The situation remains severe, but we are doing everything we can to win the release of the two Japanese hostages," Suga said. He said Japan is using every channel it can find, including local tribal chiefs, to try to reach the captors.

He said there has been no direct contact with the captors.

Abe met Friday with his National Security Council on the crisis. Government spokesman Kenko Sone said Japan had no plans to dispatch troops on a rescue mission, saying its pacifist constitution bans any pre-emptive strike, even under a new interpretation adopted last year that's intended to expand the country's military role.

Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of Goto, a journalist, and Yukawa, an adventurer fascinated by war. Japanese diplomats had left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the militants holding the hostages.

Worshippers at Tokyo's largest mosque on Friday offered prayers for the two hostages.

"All Muslims in Japan, we want the Japanese hostages to be saved as soon as possible," said Sandar Basara, a worker from Turkey.

Goto's mother made an appeal for his rescue.

"Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido. "My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State."

Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left for Syria less than two weeks after his child was born in October to try to rescue Yukawa.

Suga said earlier the government had confirmed the identities of the two hostages despite discrepancies in shadows and other details in the ransom video that suggested it might have been altered.

Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom. Japan has joined other major industrial nations in the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. U.S. and British officials said they advised against paying.

___

Associated Press writers Ashraf Khalil in Cairo, and Kaori Hitomi and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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