There was no word on the fate of two Japanese hostages held by Islamic State militants hours after a deadline for a $200 million ransom in exchange for their safety passed Friday.
The militants vowed Tuesday to kill the two men within 72 hours if they didn’t receive the money from the Japan government. That deadline reportedly passed at 2:50 p.m. in Japan (12:50 a.m. ET) on Friday, according to several media reports.
Officials from Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s administration were in Jordan on Friday working to secure release of freelance journalist Kenji Goto, and Haruna Yukawa, founder of a private security firm, who have been held by the group also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Militants posted a warning online Friday saying the “countdown has begun” for the killings. The posting shows a clock ticking to zero and gruesome images of other hostages who have been beheaded by the Islamic State. The $200 million the group demanded is the amount of money Abe pledged as assistance for a coalition of nations fighting the militants.
Goto’s mother appeared before media cameras Friday in tears pleading for her 47-year-old son to be spared.
“Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son’s life,” Junko Ishido, 78, said. “My son is not the enemy of the Islamic State.”
It remained unclear Friday what steps the Japanese government is taking to secure release of the two men. Previous international hostage-taking of Japanese citizens have largely ended with their release. One confirmed case where ransom was paid occurred in Kyrgyzstan in 1999.
“The situation remains severe but we are doing everything we can to win the release of the two Japanese hostages,” he said, adding efforts are underway to reach militants through tribal chiefs.
Goto was abducted after entering Syria to search for Yukawa, 42, who was taken captive in August, according to reports on Japanese television. In a video released Tuesday, both men are shown wearing orange clothing and kneeling in the desert on either side of a masked militant holding a knife.
The Islamic State has carried out its previous threats, posting videos showing the beheading of American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British hostages David Haines and Alan Herring. Both the U.S. and Britain reject paying ransoms to free hostages.
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