The mother of one of the Japanese captives being held by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists Friday urged the Tokyo government to pay the jihadists' $200 million ransom, and pleaded that her son's life be spared.
As the extremists' deadline loomed, Junko Ishido said freelance journalist Kenji Goto was a friend of Islam, whose life had been devoted to helping children in war zones.
"I say to you people of the Islamic State, Kenji is not your enemy. Please release him," she said. "Kenji was always saying 'I hope to save lives of children on battlefields.' He was reporting war from a neutral position."
ISIS released a video earlier this week in which Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, apparently knelt in a desert as a British-accented man stood over them brandishing a knife.
"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens," he said. Tokyo believes the deadline falls at 2:50 p.m. (5:50 a.m. GMT) on Friday.
The terrorists have linked the ransom to the amount of cash Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would be earmarking to help countries dealing with the influx of refugees fleeing fighting between ISIS and Syrian troops.
Asked by a journalist if she thinks Tokyo should pay the ransom, as it has in previous hostage situations, Ishido said: "Yes, I very much hope so."
"Japan has maintained a friendly relationship with Islamic nations," she said. "The time remaining is scarce. I beg you Japanese government officials, please save Kenji's life."
Newly a father
Ishido, who was identified as Goto's birth mother, said she had learned Thursday that his wife had given birth two weeks ago when the two spoke on the telephone for the first time.
"Kenji left for the IS(IS) with a gentle heart hoping to save a life of his Japanese colleague," she said, referring to reports that Goto said he was entering Syria to find the whereabouts of Yukawa, who had already been captured by ISIS.
"He didn't care about his safety because he believed he and people of IS(IS) would be able to understand each other, as members of the global community," she said.
She also said she has had no contact at all with the Japanese government since video of Goto and Yukawa emerged on Tuesday.
A spokesman told AFP the administration was in close contact with family of the missing men, but refused to elaborate.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday that the government was still making every effort to secure the hostages' release.
"We have received offers of cooperation from various countries," he said. "We are continuing to analyze information."
Asked whether Japan would pay the ransom, Kishida demurred. "We will not give in to terrorism. We will fight against terrorism in cooperation with other countries," he said.
NHK reported early Friday it had a text and audio exchange with a "public relations" official from Islamic State. The representative was quoted as saying: "Japanese are infidels fighting against Islamic State."
Asked about the Japanese efforts to negotiate the release of the two hostages, he said "we cannot answer that because it isn't a good question." He added "a statement will come out sometime later," without giving further details.
The Japanese media has rallied around Goto, a respected and experienced war reporter whose work has appeared on domestic television channels.
In video footage he filmed around the time he entered Syria, he holds identification papers and his Japanese passport and explains that he is aware of the risks.
"Whatever happens, I am the one who is responsible," he says. "I am asking you, Japanese people, do not place responsibility on the people of Syria. Please. I am sure I will come back alive though."
ISIS has previously killed three Americans and two Britons after parading them on camera, but this is the first time Japanese citizens have been threatened, and the first time a ransom demand has been made.
AFP contributed to this report.