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Jan 24, 2015 4:59 PM

Japan, US condemn unverified video claiming IS hostage dead

The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angrily demanded Sunday that the extremist Islamic State group release a Japanese journalist it is holding hostage after a new online video purported to show that another hostage had been killed.

While the Japanese government and others cast doubt on the authenticity of the video, President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning what he called "the brutal murder" of one of the hostages. His statement did not say how the United States knows that Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer, is dead, and the Japanese government still was trying to verify the video.

Obama said in his statement that the United States will stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Japan and called for the immediate release of the second Japanese hostage, journalist Kenji Goto. Obama's statement was issued at Ramstein Air Base in Germany as the president was en route to India for a visit.

The Japanese government had no immediate comment on Obama's statement. However, a statement issued by Abe in English and Arabic demanded the safe release only of Goto.

The message in the video seen Saturday demanded a prisoner exchange for the 47-year-old Goto. But the post was deleted quickly Saturday, and militants on a website affiliated with the Islamic State group questioned its veracity.

Still, Abe said after a late-night Cabinet meeting: "Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible and causes me nothing but strong indignation. I resolutely condemn this act."

The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the message, which varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State group had threatened on Tuesday to behead the men within 72 hours unless it received a $200 million ransom. Kyodo News agency reported that Saturday's video was emailed to Goto's wife.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said U.S. intelligence officials were also working to confirm whether it was authentic.

Abe said the government of Japan will not succumb to terrorism and will continue to cooperate with the international community in the fight against terrorism.

"I strongly demand that Mr. Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released," he said.

Japanese diplomats left Syria as the civil war there escalated, compounding the difficulty of reaching the militants holding the hostages.

Abe spoke by phone with Jordanian King Abdullah II on Saturday, the state-run Petra news agency reported, without elaborating on what they discussed. He also called the two hostages' families.

Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK in a televised interview that in the purported message her son, "seemed to be taking seriously what may be happening to him as well."

"I'm petrified," Ishido said. "He has children. I'm praying he will return soon, and that's all I want."

But Ishido also was skeptical about the voice claiming to be Goto. "Kenji's English is very good. He should sound more fluent," she said.

One militant on the Islamic State-affiliated website warned that Saturday's new message was fake, while another said that the message was intended only to go to the Japanese journalist's family.

A third militant on the website noted that the video was not issued by al-Furqan, which is one of the media arms of the Islamic State group and has issued past videos involving hostages and beheadings. Saturday's message did not bear al-Furqan's logo.

The militants on the website post comments using pseudonyms, so their identities could not be independently confirmed by the AP. However, their confusion over the video matched that of Japanese officials and outside observers.

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

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed sympathy for what Yukawa's family was going through after the release of the video.

"Fully aware of the unbearable pain and sorrow that his family must be feeling, I am at a loss for words," Kishida said.

Kishida said he planned to issue a safety warning to all Japanese citizens traveling outside the country through its embassies around the world.

Nobuo Kimoto, a business adviser to Yukawa, told the Japanese broadcaster NHK: "I was hoping he would be released, or at least that his life would not be taken."

"I wish this was some kind of a mistake," he said.

Yukawa was captured last summer, and Goto is thought to have been seized in late October after going to Syria to try to rescue him.


Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo, and White House Correspondent Julie Pace at Ramstein Air Base, Germany contributed to this report.


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