Purported IS message threatens Japan, Jordan hostages

Japan Islamic State
A protester from a religions group holds placards during a rally outside the Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo on Tuesday. A Japanese envoy in Jordan expressed hope that both a Japanese hostage and a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic militants will return home "with a smile on their faces," as criticisms mounted Tuesday over the government's handling of the crisis. The placard at left reads: "Stick with law, life is important." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

BEIRUT (AP) — An online message purportedly from the Islamic State group warned Tuesday that a Japanese hostage and Jordanian pilot the extremists hold have less than “24 hours left to live.”

The message, posted online Tuesday afternoon, again demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for involvement in a 2005 terror attack that killed 60 people. It also mentioned for the first time Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, who is a captive of the Islamic State group.

Tuesday’s video matched a message released over the weekend, though neither bore the logo of the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm. The weekend video showed a still photo of Kenji Goto holding what appears to be a photo of the body of Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa.

The Associated Press could not independently verify either video. However, several militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group referenced the video and posted links to it late Tuesday afternoon.

The message says that unless the Jordanian government frees al-Rishawi within 24 hours, Goto and the pilot will be killed, adding that this would be the group’s last message. The message warns any delaying tactics by the government will result in the death of both men.

Goto has only “24 hours left to live and the pilot has even less,” the message said.

A Japanese envoy in Jordan, Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, earlier expressed hope the two hostages would return home “with a smile on their faces.”

“I hope we can all firmly work hard and join hands to cooperate, and for the two countries (Japan and Jordan) to cooperate, in order for us to see the day when the Jordanian pilot and our Japanese national Mr. Goto, can both safely return to their own countries with a smile on their faces,” he told reporters late Monday night after another day of crisis talks in the Jordanian capital.

Japanese officials had no immediate comment on the new message.

Tuesday marked the first time a Japanese official mentioned al-Kaseasbeh, who has been held by the extremist Islamic State group after his Jordanian F-16 went down near the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in December. It wasn’t immediately clear when the pilot’s possible release had entered into the negotiations.

The 26-year-old Jordanian is the first foreign military pilot to fall into the extremists’ hands since an international coalition began its aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in September. Jordan is part of the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants in Syria.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was seized in late October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was captured by the militants last summer.

The weekend message retracted a demand for payment of $200 million in ransom for the two Japanese, made in an earlier online message. It threatened to kill Goto unless al-Rishawi was released.

Japanese officials have indicated they are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa was dead.

Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State and would allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, told the AP on Tuesday that her family was told that the Islamic State group also was seeking his release as part of a swap. It was unclear whether it was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.

Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.

___

Kageyama reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, Jon Gambrell and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, and Ken Moritsugu, Kaori Hitomi, Elaine Kurtenbach, Koji Ueda and Emily Wang in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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