Japan Targeted by ISIS

Two hostages will be killed unless a $200 million ransom is paid.

ISISjapanA video entitled “A Message to the Government and People of Japan" posted online Tuesday (and since removed) shows a purported ISIS thug brandishing a knife and standing between two Japanese hostages. The masked, British-accented terrorist demanded a $200 million ransom payment from Japan within 72 hours.

"You have proudly donated $100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims," the masked man said in English. "So the life of this Japanese citizen will cost you $100 million.”

He then addressed the Japanese public. "And to the Japanese public, just as how your government has made a foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens. Otherwise this knife will become your nightmare.”

The “donation" to which the terrorist refers is a reference to a $200 million aid package that will be donated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to countries afflicted by ISIS. Abe pledged the donation last Saturday while visiting Cairo. “It goes without saying that the stability of the Middle East is the foundation for peace and prosperity for the world, and of course for Japan,” he declared in the Egyptian capital at the start of a six-day regional tour that includes visits to Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. "Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable. I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on,” he added, using the different acronym for the Islamist State.

Abe, in Jerusalem Tuesday, promised to save the lives of his fellow countrymen. “Their lives are the top priority," he said. "Extremism and Islam are completely different things.” Speaking to journalists in Toyko, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga echoed that assertion. "If true, the act of threat in exchange of people's lives is unforgivable and we feel strong indignation. We will make our utmost effort to win their release as soon as possible.”

Both men declined to say whether or not the ransom would be paid.

The Japanese hostages, identified as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa, are shown dressed in orange jumpsuits and kneeling in the desert. However their reasons for journeying to the world’s most dangerous war zone were completely different. Goto, 47, is described as a respected Japanese freelance journalist who traveled to Syria to report on the war. "I'm in Syria for reporting," Goto explained in an email to an Associated Press (AP)  journalist last October. "I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.” In early November, his wife received email ransom demands for about one billion yen. They were sent by someone claiming to be part of ISIS, Fuji TV reported. The emailed threats were subsequently confirmed to have come from a person implicated in the killing of American  journalist James Foley.

Yukawa, on the other hand, a self-described private military company operator, is 42-year-old widower with a history of attempted suicide and self-mutilation, precipitated by the collapse of his business and the death of his wife due to cancer. He was reportedly kidnapped last August in Syria following what friends and family characterized as a final chance to turn his life around. According to USA Today, he was there to train with Syrian militants, according to a blog he kept. Facebook videos placed him in both Iraq and Syria in July, with one showing him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle. "Syria war in Aleppo 2014,” reads the caption.

His last blog post was prophetic. "I cannot identify the destination,” he wrote. "But the next one could be the most dangerous. I hope to film my fighting scenes during an upcoming visit,” he added.

The ISIS thug in the video has been identified the British-dubbed “Jihadi John,” who was also present in other ISIS videos during which British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Americans journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, were beheaded in 2014. And although he was once identified as L Jinny, aka Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, a British-Egyptian rapper from West London, both the FBI and Britain’s MI6 will not confirm or deny the initial identification. "The security services seemed to have identified him six months ago,” said Newsweek correspondent Alex Perry, who has written extensively about terror. "He was named in the newspapers. Then that was quietly dropped. I don't know for sure, but it seems like they made a mistake.”

Japan has faced kidnapping threats before. In 2004, three Japanese aid workers were kidnapped in Iraq and threatened with death if Japan did not remove the 550 troops sent there to provide logistical support for the wartime coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein from power. No troops were removed and no ransom was paid, but the workers themselves were vilified for “causing trouble” and charged $18,000 to pay for the chartered flight that returned them to Japan. Another Japanese worker was captured that same year by forces loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Japan once again refused to pay a ransom or remove their troops, but this time 24-year-old Shosei Koda’s beheading was captured on video, a bloodthirsty practice that has become routine for ISIS.

The latest threats come at a time when Japan is trying to raise its Middle East profile, an effort that began last year when the Abe government announced its intention to prevent jihadist wannabes from traveling from or via Japan to join ISIS. Toward that end he has aligned his government with security policies that coincide with those of the U.S. and Great Britain. He has also expressed his support for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who electrified the West (and likely put his own life in danger) when he called for an Islamic “revolution” aimed at fighting extremism. Abe also offered Japanese financial support for Egyptian airport and power grid projects.

While in Israel he further aligned himself with American and British policy, telling Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his nation also opposed moves by the Palestinian Authority that could hinder peace efforts, such as their attempt to join the International Court to sue Israel for “war crimes." At the same time, he urged Netanyahu to release millions of dollars of tax revenues owed to the Palestinians that were blocked as a result of that attempt.

According to The Guardian, Abe’s alignment with Britain and the U.S. has far more to do with the "perceived future threat posed to Japan by an increasingly assertive and heavily-armed China – and to a lesser but unquantifiable extent by its unstable, nuclear-armed ally, North Korea,” than his concerns about terror and Middle East stability, the left-leaning British paper contends. By the same token Abe's push to alter the pacifist nature of his nation's constitution is opposed by a majority of the Japanese public.

Yet as this hostage crisis indicates, such machinations are irrelevant to ISIS, which has publicly demanded cash in exchange for hostages for the first time ever. Several media sources contend this is likely due to losses suffered in recent airstrikes and the recent price decline in oil. Addressing the price drop, Greg Ohannessian, an analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, explains ISIS was making as much as $2 million per day in oil revenue prior to the plunge -- revenue used to pacify the approximately 8 million people living in ISIS's self-professed caliphate. "Now with oil dropping by 60 percent, that is going to be cutting into their income,” he contended. "That is definitely going to have an impact on their capacity to maintain the population.”

Up to a point. A reputation for beheading and over-the-top brutality goes a long way towards “maintaining” a population, no matter how restive.

Regardless, Abe has cut short his trip, originally scheduled to end Jan. 24, to deal with the crisis. A deputy foreign minister will also be sent to Jordan to work on it as well.

In the meantime the clock continues to tick. Not just on the Japanese hostage crisis, but the ongoing reality that every day ISIS remains a healthy entity while it gains more Western recruits. Yet despite the recent attacks in Australia, Canada and Paris, along with numerous plots unraveled before they could be brought to fruition, that connection between ISIS’s viability and the increasing allure of jihad among the disaffected living in Western nations remains largely ignored, if not outright denied.

Thus one is left to wonder what level of Western carnage and death is required to precipitate a crushing blow against those who wish to kill "hundreds of millions” of us, according to Jurgen Todenhofer, the first Western reporter to embed with ISIS and not get killed in the process. Todenhofer also insisted ISIS is "much stronger than we think,” and that their recruitment efforts are motivating jihadists around the world. “Each day, hundreds of new enthusiastic fighters are arriving,” he revealed. “There is an incredible enthusiasm that I have never seen in any other war zones I have been to.” It is an enthusiasm that will require far more than air strikes, solidarity marches -- and singing pop songs -- to vanquish.

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