Japan’s Beheaded Illusions

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on a six-day tour of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) posted a video online threatening to murder two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, if his government did not pay $200 million within 72 hours. Abe had no good options. Indeed, when it comes to protecting its citizens overseas, Japan never does.

When Abe failed to bow to its demands, ISIL released a second video claiming that Yukawa, who was seized last August in Syria while reportedly preparing to establish a Japan-based private security company, had been beheaded. Goto, a journalist who traveled to Syria last October to try to secure Yukawa’s release, will supposedly be spared if Japan secures Jordan’s release of a convicted terrorist.

In fact, Goto’s wife had received an email demanding a ransom of ¥2 billion ($17 million) in December. But it seems that Abe’s Middle East tour presented a greater opportunity for ISIL to make the most of its Japanese hostages.

ISIL’s ransom demand was not just a bid for cash; it sent a powerful message. Just three days before the demand was made, Abe pledged to provide $200 million in non-military humanitarian aid to frontline countries in the fight against ISIL, including Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, all of which have taken in large numbers of refugees.