Japan's Prime Minister has returned home to focus his attention on a hostage crisis involving two of his citizens held by 'Islamic State'. The group, which controls a third of Iraq and Syria, is demanding a high ransom.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rushed home on Wednesday, cutting short a Middle East tour, to deal with the hostage-taking. In a video on Tuesday, the "Islamic State" (IS) said it wanted $200 million (170 million euro) paid by Friday.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would use diplomatic channels and "all kinds of media" to obtain the hostages' release.
It is the first time that the jihadist group has threatened Japanese captives.
He confirmed the identities of the men as Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a security contractor, who were shown in a video wearing orange overalls, while a captor waved a knife near them.
Abe demands hostages' release
The video, released on Tuesday while Abe was visiting Jerusalem, was reminiscent of IS hostage-takings last year that ended in the beheadings of five Western hostages - two Britons and three Americans.
Japan is still trying to overcome the loss of 10 Japanese at the hands of militants in 2013 during an Algerian gas plant crisis.
Abe, while visiting Jerusalem, vowed on Tuesday that he would not bow to "terrorism" and demanded that the pair be released "immediately" and unharmed.
"Their lives are the top priority," Abe said.
In the video, a black-clad person said the ransom demanded by IS was equal to the sum of aid pledged by Japan to help Western powers "fight the Islamic State."
Japan has insisted that its aid amounts to non-military assistance for Middle East countries neighboring Syria and Iraq that have taken in refugees displaced by Syria's conflict and the IS' territorial expansion that spread from northern Syria into western Iraq in April last year.
Avoiding armed intervention
Japan has steered clear of joining armed engagements in the Middle East that have been undertaken by the US, Britain and other Western countries.
The chief spokesman for Japan's branch of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Hiromasa Nakai, described Goto as a someone who had worked hard for children in the Islamic would at locations including Somalia.
"It is an extreme shock for us. We hope he will return safe,"
Abe dispatched his deputy foreign minister, Yasuhide Nakayana to Jordan to seek its support in resolving the hostage crisis.
ipj/mz (AP, AFP, dpa)