Isis warns hostage’s beheading is start of carnage for Japan

  • Date February 1 2015
  • Publication The Sunday Times

By Hala Jaber and Sara Elizabeth Williams

A JAPANESE journalist held by Isis has been beheaded, if a video posted on the internet last night is confirmed as genuine.

Kenji Goto, 47, was captured by the group after travelling to Syria in an attempt to secure the release of a fellow Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, 42. Yukawa was killed by the terrorist group last weekend.

The video posted on militant websites showed Goto, in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling in a canyon. Behind him stood the menacing figure of a man believed to be Jihadi John — a terrorist with a London accent who has appeared in other beheading videos — holding a knife to Goto’s throat and a hand over his mouth.

Addressing Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, the British terrorist declared: “Because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”

It ends with a still photograph of Goto’s headless torso.

Abe condemned the murder early today and vowed to work with other nations to bring those responsible to justice.

“I feel strong indignation at this inhumane and contemptible act of terrorism,” the grim-faced Abe told reporters. “I will never forgive these terrorists.

“Japan will work with the international community to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.”

David Cameron said last night that the murder “is a further reminder that [Isis] is the embodiment of evil with no regard for human life”.

The White House echoed the condemnation. America and Japan said they were working to authenticate the video.

Its release came a week after Isis uploaded a series of photographs showing the beheaded corpse of Yukawa, a Japanese adventurer who disappeared last August outside the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The latest video made no mention of Muath al-Kaseasbeh, a Jordanian pilot that Isis, also known as Islamic State, has been holding since his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, the militants’ stronghold in eastern Syria. The pilot’s uncle said the family were devastated by the latest killing.

The scene of the murder looked to be different from those seen in other videos and appeared to have been shot on a remote path winding up a gully in hills. Like previous killings by the group, it is assumed to have taken place on the outskirts of Raqqa.

It is the latest in a series of beheadings by the Islamists. Their victims have included James Foley, an American journalist, killed in August, and Alan Henning, a British aid worker, who died in October.

John Cantlie, a British photojournalist, is still being held by the group and is forced to make propaganda videos.

In last week’s video, Isis offered to free Goto in exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, a failed Iraqi suicide bomber sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 suicide bombing of the Radisson hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, that killed 38 people. Over the past few days their fates became intertwined with that of al-Kaseasbeh, after Jordan said it would free her in return for proof its pilot was still alive.

Negotiations appeared to have stalled, however, prompting suggestions Isis was trying to use popular concern in Jordan at the fate of al-Kaseasbeh to build pressure on the government in Amman to end its participation in US-led airstrikes on Isis forces.

On Friday, Jordan had challenged Isis by threatening to speed up the execution of prisoners on death row linked to the militant group.

By killing Goto, Isis responded to that challenge and placed maximum pressure on Jordan to make the next move in what has become a complex and high-stakes series of negotiations and counter-moves.

Isis includes a number of Jordanians and their knowledge of how this deeply tribal country functions may have been vital in informing Isis’s approach to Jordan.

Anger is spreading and for the first time an anti-war movement is gaining a voice. Protests in the streets of Amman and Karak, the pilot’s home town, have at times been deliberately anti-regime.

Although Jordan borders Syria, Isis is not believed to want to invade the country but to destabilise it — a goal that could be achieved by angering the prominent Kaseasbeh tribe to which the pilot belongs.

Abe’s government had put high priority on seeking the release of Goto, who worked for various Japanese broadcasters, including NHK, the equivalent of the BBC.

Isis threatened to kill him and Yukawa after Abe announced $200m in non-military aid for countries fighting the Islamists. His government has rejected any suggestion it acted rashly and stressed the assistance was humanitarian.

Goto went to the Isis stronghold in northern Syria last October in search of his friend two weeks after the birth of his and wife Rinko’s second child.

Yukawa, described by the Japanese media as a disturbed individual, had vanished two months earlier. His motive for travelling there had been to put behind him troubles including the loss of his wife to cancer, and his own bankruptcy and suicide bid. The two met in Syria last April and travelled together for a while. Goto later returned to Tokyo. His friend went back to Syria alone.

On learning of Yukawa’s abduction, Goto said he wanted to help. He contacted anti-government rebels in Aleppo to organise his quest. He believed that because Japan had not joined the military campaign against Isis, he could gain the group’s co-operation.

In a video recorded before his journey, Goto, who converted to Christianity in 1997, said: “Whatever happens this is my responsibility.”