Appalled and saddened by news yesterday of journalist Kenji Goto’s beheading, apparently by Islamic State extremists, Japan ordered heightened security precautions, but vowed not to give in to terrorism.
The failure to save Goto raised fears for the life of a Jordanian fighter pilot also held hostage. Unlike some earlier messages, there was no mention of the pilot in an online video purporting to show an Islamic State group militant beheading Goto, circulated via social media late Saturday by militant sympathizers.
The slaying of Goto, a freelancer whose work focused on refugees, children and other victims of war, shocked this country, which until now had not become directly embroiled in the fight against the militants.
“I feel indignation over this immoral and heinous act of terrorism,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters after convening an emergency Cabinet meeting.
“When I think of the grief of his family, I am left speechless,” he said. “We are filled with deep regret.”
Threats from the Islamic State group prompted an order for tighter security at airports and at Japanese facilities overseas, such as embassies and schools, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.
He said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the status of the Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh. He was captured in December when his F-16 crashed near the de facto capital of the Islamic State group, which controls about a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.
Jordan’s government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani, also declined comment. Earlier this week, Jordan offered to free an al-Qaida prisoner for the pilot, but demanded and said it never got proof he was still alive.
With no updates for days, al-Kaseasbeh’s family appealed to the government for information on his situation. But for Goto’s family and friends, the beheading shattered any hopes for his rescue.
“Kenji has died, and my heart is broken. Facing such a tragic death, I’m just speechless,” Goto’s mother Junko Ishido told reporters.
“I was hoping Kenji might be able to come home,” said Goto’s brother, Junichi Goto, in a separate interview. “I was hoping he would return and thank everyone for his rescue, but that’s impossible, and I’m bitterly disappointed.”
According to his friends and family, Goto traveled to Syria in late October to try to save Haruna Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage in August and who was shown as purportedly killed in an earlier video.
“He was kind and he was brave,” said Yukawa’s father Shoichi. “He tried to save my son.”
“It’s utterly heartbreaking,” he said, crying and shaking. “People killing other people — it’s so deplorable. How can this be happening?”
Abe vowed not to give in to terrorism and said Japan will continue to provide humanitarian aid to countries fighting the Islamic State extremists.
But the government spokesman, Suga, said Abe would not link the hostage crisis to his efforts to expand Japan’s military role in “collective self-defense” with the U.S. and other allies.
The White House released a statement in which President Barack Obama also condemned “the heinous murder” and praised Goto’s reporting, saying he “courageously sought to convey the plight of the Syrian people to the outside world.”
The White House said that while it isn’t confirming the authenticity of the video itself, it has confirmed that Goto has been slain.
Japan’s defense minister, Gen Nakatani, said the police agency deemed the video of Goto’s killing “highly likely to be authentic.”
Highlighted by militant sympathizers on social media sites, the video bore the symbol of the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm.
Though it could not be immediately independently verified by The Associated Press, it conformed to other beheading videos released by the extremists, who now control about a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.
A few dozen people, bundled up against a biting wind, gathered in front of Abe’s official residence in downtown Tokyo yesterday afternoon to show their sympathy for the hostages.
“I feel so sad and angry”, said Mayuko Tamura, 31, a pediatrician who came with her husband and their 8-month-old baby. Why didn’t the government rescue Kenji?” Elaine Kurtenbach and Yuri Kageyama, Tokyo, AP