Abe vows to work with international community to save two hostages


TOKYO/LONDON  — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Jan. 21 to make utmost efforts for an early release of two Japanese held apparently by the Islamic State extremist group, with Britain and several other countries offering support.

“We will take all possible measures in the international fight against this despicable terrorism,” Abe told reporters after he called a ministerial meeting on the hostage crisis. “We will never give in to terrorism.”

Abe made the remarks after returning from a Middle East trip that was cut slightly short by the incident.

A man claiming to be an Islamic State member threatened in an online video message Jan. 20 to kill the two captives unless Japan pays $200 million in 72 hours, the same amount Abe pledged in a speech made last weekend in Cairo as part of Tokyo’s contribution to anti-Islamic State efforts.

Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have stressed that Japan has pledged “non-military” humanitarian support for Middle East nations struggling against the Islamic State, denying the group’s claim that Tokyo has donated money to kill Muslims.

“What Japan has provided is humanitarian assistance targeting refugees,” Suga said at a press conference earlier Jan. 21, while reiterating that the country’s policy of making active contributions to the international fight against terrorism remains unchanged.

The Japanese government has identified the two hostages as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto from talks it had with their families and the situation surrounding them.

Suga, meanwhile, declined to comment on the ransom demand while saying Japan is trying to contact the hostage takers through various diplomatic channels but has not been able to do so yet.

Tokyo believes that the ransom deadline is around 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 23 in Japan, 72 hours from when it saw the video message, the top government spokesman said.

Middle East leaders promised to do the best they can for the Japanese men’s release when Abe asked them for help, according to the prime minister.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron offered all possible assistance from the British government in Abe’s bid to rescue the hostages during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a Japanese official said.

Cameron was also quoted as telling Kishida the international community must work together to handle the case.

Kishida came to London along with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani for a high-level security meeting with their British counterparts, which took place on Jan. 21.

Nakatani told reporters after a meeting with Defense Secretary Michael Fallon that Japan will deal with the ransom demand “in a resolute manner” and has told Fallon of the position.

Fallon has advised Japan to address the issue in an unwavering manner, bracing for a possible similar incident in the future, according to Nakatani.

The militant group has murdered at least two Britons and Britain joined U.S.-led airstrikes targeting it in Iraq and Syria.

The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Britain expressed “strong indignation” Jan. 21 at the hostage incidents in a joint statement they released after their first “two-plus-two” security talks.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon expressed “strong support, solidarity and readiness to cooperate with Japan,” in the statement.

The foreign ministers of the United States, France, Italy and Iran similarly offered their maximum support toward an early release of the hostages in a series of telephone conversations with Kishida since he arrived in London on Jan. 20, according to the Japanese government.

The man in the video said in a message to Abe, “You have proudly donated 100 million (dollars) to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims,” demanding a ransom amount of $100 million each for the hostages.

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