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The Islamic State's new hostage video, in which it threatens to kill two Japanese captives and demands $200 million in ransom, comes as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is touring the Middle East and offering the same amount in humanitarian aid to countries affected by the terrorist group.
The video, which is not dated and has not yet been authenticated, echoes past releases by the group, with two men in orange clothing kneeling in a desert landscape. A voice-over instructs the Japanese public that it has three days to convince its government to end its “foolish” support of the US-led campaign against the self-described Islamic State, Reuters reports. This is the first time an IS video has directly demanded cash, according to The Associated Press.
"We strongly demand the release of the Japanese citizens unharmed," Prime Minister Abe said from Jerusalem today. "The international community needs to respond firmly and cooperate without caving into terrorism."
The hostage-taking could present a serious political challenge for Abe, who has pressed to give his nation a more prominent role in international affairs since taking office. According to the BBC, many in Japan oppose such direct involvement in events so far from home, and they could use this case as an argument against further participation.
“I feel like Abe’s decision to provide $200 million is just an excuse to attack Japan,” said Youkou Imada, a construction company employee told Businessweek. “I’m just wishing Abe would focus on the Japanese economy rather than committing us to those complicated situations outside the country.”
On Saturday, Abe pledged $2.5 billion in non-military assistance to the Middle East, with $200 million in largely humanitarian aid for nations fighting the Islamic State, reports NBC News. Today, he stated that Japan’s pledges of support would continue in the region, despite the targeted threat to his citizens.
The Islamic State militant group has taken over nearly a third of Iraq and Syria, and has killed thousands of civilians since launching its campaign to create a caliphate.
The Japanese hostages are identified in the video as Kenji Goto Jogo, a freelance journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, who reportedly went to Syria to set up a private military contracting company.
Abe is expected to cancel the remainder of his Middle East tour and return home to deal with the crisis.
This is the second hostage crisis Abe has faced in the Middle East since taking office. In 2013, Al Qaeda-linked militants attacked a natural gas plant in Algeria, killing 37 people, 10 of whom were Japanese.
Previously, in 2004, militants pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and beheaded a Japanese man after demanding Japanese troops withdraw from the country.