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Feb 2, 2015 5:14 AM

Japan's leader defends handling of hostage crisis

The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his policy toward terrorism, as the flag at his official residence flew at half-staff Monday in a mark of mourning for two hostages killed by the Islamic State group.

During a long day of parliamentary debate, Abe parried numerous questions about his handling of the hostage crisis, which came to a grisly end with news early Sunday that journalist Kenji Goto had been beheaded by the extremists.

Abe said his announcement of $200 million in non-military aid for the fight against the Islamic State group, made during a visit to the Middle East just days before the militants demanded a $200 million ransom for the two hostages, was meant to convey Japan's strong commitment to battling terrorism and fostering peace and stability in the region.

Some have questioned that decision, saying Abe should have been more cautious and not mentioned the Islamic State group by name.

Responding to a question by an opposition lawmaker, Abe confirmed that he was aware of the hostage situation when he made the announcement.

Abe said he wished to publicize Japan's contribution to the fight against extremism, and rejected the idea of a more cautious approach.

"As international society seeks to restore peace and stability in the Middle East ... I thought it would be the most appropriate destination to visit, and that I should broadcast my message to the world from there," Abe said. "I thought announcing Japan's contribution to fulfill its responsibility would contribute to the international community's effort to fight against terrorism and prevent its expansion."

Abe said he did not see an increased terrorist risk following threats in a purported Islamic State group video that vowed to target Japanese and make the knife Goto's killer was wielding Japan's "nightmare."

"The terrorists are criminals," Abe said. "We are determined to pursue them and hold them accountable."

Still, Japan has ordered heightened security precautions for airports and other public transport and at Japanese facilities overseas, such as embassies and schools.

The government also has called on journalists and others in areas near the conflict to withdraw, given the risk of further kidnappings and other threats.

The flag outside Abe's official residence was lowered to half-staff to mourn Goto and the other hostage, gun aficionado and adventurer Haruna Yukawa, who reportedly was killed earlier.

Goto's wife, Rinko Jogo, said in a statement released Monday that she was devastated but proud of her husband.

Jogo requested privacy for her family as they deal with their loss, and thanked those who had supported them.

"I remain extremely proud of my husband, who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria," she said in the statement, issued through the British-based journalist group Rory Peck Trust.

"It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war," she said.

Goto left for Syria in late October, just a few weeks after the birth of the couple's youngest daughter, apparently hoping to rescue Yukawa, who had been seized by the militants last summer. Soon after, he was captured by the extremists.


Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi and Elaine Kurtenbach at twitter.com/ekurtenbach .


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