A short video apparently depicting the decapitation of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was released late Saturday by the Islamic State.
The executioner appeared to be the same British-accented jihadi shown murdering at least five other hostages in previous videos.
The video, which lasted about one minute, caps two weeks of drama over what was to become of Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and leaves in limbo the fate of a Jordanian fighter pilot, Moaz al Kasasbeh, whom the Islamic State captured in December and has threatened to kill.
The video made no mention of Kasasbeh, whom the Jordanians have offered to trade for Sajida al Rishawi, an Iraqi woman convicted in a 2005 bombing plot that killed at least 57 people in Amman, Jordan’s capital. The Islamic State has not responded to that offer publicly.
Officials in Japan said they were examining the video to verify its authenticity, but Goto’s death did not seem in doubt.
“I cannot help but feel even more intense indignation at the fact that this kind of utterly cruel and despicable act of terrorism occurred again,” said Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary. “I resolutely condemn it.”
Suga said the country’s cabinet had been called into an emergency meeting to consider what he called a “thoroughgoing response,” though what form that might take was unclear Japan’s constitution prohibits overseas military intervention, and average Japanese seem ambivalent about how to react to the death of two of their fellow citizens in Syria.
“It’s his fault that he went to a dangerous area,” Yuta Uchicki, the owner of a cafe in Tokyo, said of Goto, adding that while he felt angry that the Islamic State had “betrayed” hope for Goto’s survival, Japan’s government and its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, could not be held responsible. “He did very well, even though every Japanese thought we couldn’t help Kenji,” Uchicki said.
Other Japanese said that Goto and Yukawa were responsible for their own fates. Noricko Kubo described the pair as “too reckless” while Hana Masaki suggested they’d been “stupid” for going to Syria.
The United States, a key ally of both Jordan and Japan and which has seen three of its own citizens beheaded by the group since August, denounced the killing.
“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,” said National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan in the statement, which was emailed to reporters.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued similar statements of support, with Kerry praising Japan’s pledge of assistance to countries affected by the Islamic State’s advance. “Japan’s generous assistance to vulnerable communities fully reflects its commitment to international peace and development,” he said.
There was no comment from Jordanian officials. Kasasbeh’s brother’s cell phone appeared to have been turned off.
The video was titled “A message to the government of Japan” and showed the same black masked executioner as multiple previous videos. He spoke perfect English with an obviously British accent.
“Abe,” the killer said, referring to the Japanese prime minister, “because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this man will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
The drama over Goto and Yukawa began Jan. 21, when the Islamic State released a recording of Goto, who said the Islamic State was demanding a $200 million ransom and had set a 72-hour deadline for payment. When that deadline passed, a second Goto recording released a week ago reported that Yukawa had been executed and that the demand had shifted to an exchange of Goto for Rishawi.
Then on Tuesday, a new recording for the first time threatened the life of Kasasbeh, the captured pilot, unless the Goto-Rishawi swap took place.
Jordan responded by offering to swap Rishawi for Kasasbeh in public statements Wednesday, but the Islamic State’s only public answer was to reiterate its Goto-for-Rishawi offer and to say that if the swap did not take place by sundown Thursday, Goto and Kasasbeh would be executed.
There was no word Saturday on Kasasbeh’s fate.
Japan recently pledged $150 million in aid to the governments of countries affected by the rise of the Islamic State, which controls large chunks of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq.
The nearly four-year war in Syria and the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June have displaced millions of refugees in what humanitarian workers call the worst crisis to strike the region in the modern era.
McClatchy special correspondent Albert Siegel in Tokyo contributed to this report.