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Japanese Hostage Faces 'Sunset Deadline' For Prisoner Exchange


Japanese journalist Kenji Goto delivers a lecture during a symposium in Tokyo in October 2010.

Japanese journalist Kenji Goto delivers a lecture during a symposium in Tokyo in October 2010.

A new audio message claiming to be from Kenji Goto, a Japanese hostage held by the Islamic State (IS) group, warns that the militants will execute Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh at sunset on January 29 unless Jordan releases an Iraqi death-row prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi.

The audio message was posted on YouTube early on January 29, but was soon removed. The message was also shared on other social-networking sites.

The untitled, 30-second voice message in English is accompanied by a translation in Arabic.

"I am Kenji Goto Jogo. This is a voice message I've been told to send to you. If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life on the Turkish border by Thursday sunset 29th of January local time, the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh will be killed immediately."

A previous audio message also purportedly from Goto released on January 27 had showed a static image of Goto holding a photograph, as had a January 24 video message. The January 29 message does not include such a still image.

Shortly after the release of the message, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that Tokyo was analyzing the message. "We think there is a high probability that this is Mr. Goto's voice," Suga said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said analysis of the message suggested it had been issued by the IS group.

The new audio message came after Jordan said on January 28 that it had not received assurances that Kasasbeh was safe. Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said that Jordan would release Rishawi if Kasasbeh was freed but would not do so until the pilot was released.

A 26-year-old Jordanian Air Force pilot, Kasasbeh was captured by IS militants in December after his warplane crashed near Raqqa in Syria. Rishawi, the Iraqi prisoner the IS group are demanding in exchange for his life, is a female suicide bomber sent by Al-Qaeda to attack a Jordanian hotel in 2005.

Goto, a 47-year-old freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, went to Syria in October, apparently to try to secure the release of Haruna Yukawa, another Japanese national held hostage by the IS group. Yukawa was beheaded on January 24 after a 72-hour deadline stipulated by the IS group for the payment of a $200 million ransom expired. In its January 24 video message, the IS group showed a still image of Goto holding a photograph, apparently of Yukawa's body.

A January 27 blog post by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists described Goto as a "brave journalist who is a voice of humanity in the midst of atrocity."

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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