Tokyo: A Japanese envoy in Jordan expressed hope that both Japanese hostage Kenji Goto and a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic militants will return home "with a smile on their faces," as questions rose on Tuesday over the government's handling of the crisis.
In the Jordanian capital, Amman, Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama seemed determined, saying he believed there were "firm ties" between Japan and Jordan.
"I hope we can all firmly work hard and join hands to cooperate, and for the two countries (Japan and Jordan) to cooperate, in order for us to see the day when the Jordanian pilot and our Japanese national Mr Goto, can both safely return to their own countries with a smile on their faces," Nakayama, a lawmaker send to coordinate efforts in Amman to save two Japanese hostages of the Islamic State group, said yesterday.
It was the first mention by a Japanese official of Jordanian pilot 1st Lt Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh, who has been held by the extremist Islamic State group after crashing in December. It was not clear when the pilot's possible release had entered the picture.
The issue of a prisoner swap is sensitive, given Jordanian concern over the pilot, and Nakayama emerged from the Japanese embassy today with no new updates.
"There are other parties involved, so I don't want to comment on details of the negotiations," he said.
Goto, a journalist, was seized in late October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, an adventurer who was captured by the militants last summer.
Over the weekend, an unverified video surfaced showing a still photo of Goto, 47, holding what appears to be a photo of Yukawa's body. It included a recording of a voice claiming to be Goto, saying his captors wanted the release of Sajida al-Rashawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for involvement in a suicide bombing that killed 60 people.
The message retracted a demand for payment of USD 200 million in ransom for the two Japanese, made in an earlier online message, and said Yukawa had been killed. It threatened to kill Goto unless al-Rashawi was released.
Japanese officials are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa was killed. However, the new message varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group, and The Associated Press could not verify its contents and whether they actually reflect the group's demands.