The Islamic State (ISIS) group threatened to kill two Japanese hostages unless Tokyo pays a $200 million ransom within 72 hours, in
a video posted on jihadist websites on Tuesday.
In the video, a black-clad terrorist brandishing a knife addresses the camera in British English standing between two hostages wearing orange jumpsuits.
"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the £200 million dollars to save the lives of your citizens," he says.
The terrorist says that the ransom demand was to compensate for non-military aid that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to support the campaign against ISIS during an ongoing Middle East tour that on Tuesday saw him in Jerusalem.
One of the hostages appeared in previous footage posted last August in which he identified himself as Haruna Yukawa and was shown being roughly interrogated by his captors. It is unclear why Yukawa left for the Middle East, according to the Associated Press, but several social media posts about the hostage situation indicate that he may be mentally ill.
The second hostage – Kenji Goto – is a freelance journalist who set up a video production company, named Independent Press in Tokyo in 1996, feeding video documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks, including public broadcaster NHK.
Japan refuses to 'give in'
Japan's government said it was looking into the threat.
"We are aware of the reports. We are in discussions on the matter," said an official in the foreign ministry's terrorism prevention division, declining to be named.
When asked whether the government regarded the video as authentic, he told AFP: "We are checking that too."
A press conference in Jerusalem is currently being delayed due to the situation, Abe's aides stated at 9:20 am Tuesday, and the Prime Minister may provide an official response within the next hour.
From Tokyo, meanwhile, the Japanese government said Tuesday it will not give in to "terrorism."
"Our country's stance – contributing to the fight against terrorism without giving in – remains unchanged," chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Japan's capital.
Tuesday's threats mark the first time ISIS has threatened Asia, as previous hostage videos have been aimed squarely at the West, including the US and UK.
Four western hostages were subjected to a videotaped execution since June; while fifteen European hostages were reportedly released shortly before the string of videos began, both London and Washington refused to pay ransom to the terror group.
This is not the first marked change in ISIS's change in tactics regarding its propaganda videos to the international community, however; earlier this month, it released a video of captured British reporter John Cantile providing an "update" on life in ISIS's self-styled 'Caliphate,' whereby he looked significantly healthier than in previous appearances and wore civilian clothing.
The "update," along with Cantile's appearance, suggested that ISIS is concerned with its poor reputation in the international press for life under its rule.