Isis video of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto purportedly shows journalist being beheaded by militant

The deadline for a hostage exchange passed on Thursday evening

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The Independent Online

Islamic State (Isis) militants have released a video which appears to show the murder of a journalist at the centre of hostage negotiations with the Japanese government.

With similarities to previous video messages showing the beheadings of Western captives in Syria, Kenji Goto, 47, was shown kneeling in front of a masked man armed with a knife, in a film which was titled: A Message To The Japanese Government.

Unlike past murders, however, the reported killing followed negotiations with Isis aimed at freeing Mr Goto, and the release of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh.

Mr Goto, an experienced freelance reporter who went to Syria in October, had previously been forced to hold up a picture which appeared to show the aftermath of the beheading of another Japanese hostage, private security consultant Haruna Yukawa.

On Saturday evening, the Japanese authorities were investigating the film to check its authenticity.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “I will never forgive these terrorists. Japan will work with the international community to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.”

The Japanese Prime Minister addressed reporters following the online release of the video (EPA)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga added: “I cannot help feeling strong indignation that an inhuman and despicable act of terrorism like this has been committed again. We resolutely condemn this.”

He said that cabinet ministers would now meet to discuss the government’s response.

“It is so sad, but Kenji has left us on a journey,” said Junko Ishido, 78, Mr Goto's mother. “Please forgive me for not finding any words.”

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: "I utterly condemn what appears to be the despicable and appalling murder of Kenji Goto. It is a further reminder that ISIL (Isis) is the embodiment of evil, with no regard for human life.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Mr Goto and Mr Yukawa and the Japanese people as they come to terms with the murder of two innocent citizens in such a brutal manner. Britain stands united with Japan at this tragic time and we will do all we can to hunt down these murderers and bring them to justice, however long it takes.

"The Japanese Government is right not to bow to terrorism. The way we will defeat ISIL is not by giving in to these terrorists but by confronting them and their poisonous ideology. With determination and patience, we will work together with Japan and our other allies to extinguish this terrorist threat and to stand up for the values of tolerance and peace."

Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi in her apparant confession on Jordanian television in 2005

Isis had initially asked for a $200 million ransom for the release of the two Japanese men. Mr Yukawa was captured last summer near Aleppo and Mr Goto had reportedly travelled to the region to try and help secure his release.

After Isis had reported that Mr Yukawa been killed this week, the demands changed with a call for Jordan to release Sajida al-Rishawi, who has been held since 2005 in relation to bomb attacks on hotels in Amman.

Jordan has itself been threatened with the murder of Lieutenant Kasasbeh. He was captured when his plane crashed in Syria on Christmas Eve. Jordan has demanded proof that he is still alive and there was no prisoner exchange at sunset on Thursday, as Isis had demanded. The group warned that Lt Kasasbeh would be killed if Rishawi was not brought out from custody.

By late on Friday, Japan’s deputy foreign minister Yasuhide Nakayama had warned that their negotiations were “in a state of deadlock”.

Flight Lieutenant Moaz Youssef al-Kasasbeh, 26, was taken hostage when his plane crashed last week whilst undertaking US-led air strikes against Isis (EPA)

While Isis delivered its ransom demands, Mr Goto’s family had publicly called for Mr Abe to negotiate. His mother said in an appeal last week: “Kenji was always saying 'I hope to save lives of children on battlefields'. He was reporting war from a neutral position.”

On social media, an ‘I am Kenji’ campaign had developed in recent days, using the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ motif that internet users used to show solidarity after the gun killings at French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices earlier this month.

In the video released on Saturday, the apparent killer spoke with a British-sounding accent. Mr Goto did not speak in the one-minute long film.

The masked man blamed Mr Abe’s policies and warned that Japan was now a target, claiming that it was now “foolish allies in the Satanic coalition.”

While Japan has not sent military assistance to face Isis in Syria and Iraq, it pledged $200 million dollars in aid and to help train the local resistance.

Three Americans and two Britons have been killed in similar circumstances, although without public demands for ransoms of money or prisoner exchanges.

US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded, before British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Abdul-Rahman Kassig, formerly known as Peter Kassig, an American aid worker, was also killed.

On Saturday evening, White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said: “We have seen the video purporting to show that Japanese citizen Kenji Goto has been murdered by the terrorist group ISIL. We are working to confirm its authenticity. The United States strongly condemns ISIL's actions and we call for the immediate release of all remaining hostages. We stand in solidarity with our ally Japan.”

Final video

The latest purported Isis video sees the return of elements seen in previous films following a departure in recent days when it resorted to issuing a number of audio messages.

The film shows a masked jihadist who looks and sounds like a militant with a British accent featured in previous videos. It also bears the mark of Isis’s al-Furqan media arm. Both elements have been the norm in videos where Western hostages have been murdered. 

On 24 January and 27 January Isis issued films but these messages had contained no video. Rather Goto’s voice and a still image of him appeared. In the first he carried a picture of the body of the other murdered Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and in the second an apparently manipulated image of the Jordanian pilot Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh, another hostage. The two messages were against a blank white background.

Some have suggested the change in style is because they are rush production jobs, churned out due to the speed at which events were unfolding. Others speculated that the bombardment from the US-led coalition on Isis positions could have forced the change, making it too dangerous to film outside.

It is impossible to know when the latest film was made. The location is a hilly, scrub-covered region unlike the sand dunes in previous video releases. Mr Goto is silent, whereas the final words of previous hostages have been heard.

Chris Stevenson

A cruel timeline

28 July Haruna Yukawa travels to the Middle East.

14 Aug He is kidnapped; video of interrogation posted on the internet.

25 Oct Journalist Kenji Goto departs for Syria. reportedly to find Yukawa.

17Jan Japan PM Shinzo Abe pledges $200m aid to countries fighting Isis.

20 Jan Isis video of Goto and Yukawa demands $200m ransom in 72 hours.

24 Jan Video is posted featuring an image of Goto holding up a picture of Yukawa’s decapitated body.

27 Jan Isis releases video; still image of Goto holds a picture of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

29 Jan Goto’s wife issues plea for her husband to be freed.

31 Jan Isis releases video of militant with UK accent beheading Goto.