Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan over Military Plan

26 January, 2015

The Islamic State militant group reportedly executed a hostage from Japan last week. The group is now threatening to kill a second Japanese hostage.

The incidents have shown Japan that its recent diplomatic activity and close friendship with the United States are making it a target for terrorists.

The hostage crisis could likely divide Japanese public opinion over the government's plan to become more active in international security.

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan over Military Plan
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, speaks to reporters about the hostage crisis in Tokyo, Jan. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

A top Japanese official said Monday that the government is working closely with Jordan to win the release of war reporter Kenji Goto. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said human life remains the top concern of the government. He also said Japan has not had any direct contact with the Islamic State group.

The militants earlier claimed to have executed Haruna Yukawa, a security contract worker. The group had said it would release the two Japanese if Japan made a payment of $200 million. The Islamic State set a 72-hour time limit for the payment. The deadline was January 23.

A new video appeared on the Internet Sunday. The video reportedly includes a voice said to be that of Kenji Goto. The speaker said the militants have dropped their demand for money and will free him in exchange for an Iraqi woman held in Jordan. Sajida al-Rishawi was arrested in 2005 for attempting a suicide bombing in Amman.

The hostage crisis comes at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to play a more active part in world security.

The $200 million payment demand was the same amount of money the Japanese leader promised in non-military aid for refugees in the Middle East. He wanted the aid to go to people displaced by the Islamic State. The group controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Abe is also seeking to amend Japan's constitution. He wants the constitution to let the Japanese military protect the country's citizens and defend its allies.

Koichi Nakano teaches political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. Professor Nakano said the hostage crisis will likely increase divisions among the Japanese public.

"On the one hand, the government would make the argument that this is the reason why we need to be more proactive in taking part in the war on terror. But a large number of the Japanese remain unconvinced that that is actually the case."

Professor Nakano said that opinion surveys have found Mr. Abe has strong support during the hostage crisis. But he said some Japanese believe the country faces greater risk because of its expanded military and diplomatic activity.

I'm Mario Ritter.

This report was based on a story from VOA's Brian Padden. George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

militantn., someone active in trying to cause political change, often by the use of force or violence

hostagen., a person captured and held as a guarantee that a demand or promise will be honored

targetn., any person or object aimed at or fired at

opinionn., a belief based on one's own ideas and thinking

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