Isis (Islamic State) released a video yesterday purportedly showing the beheading of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist held hostage by the extremist group, after negotiations for a prisoner exchange stalled.
Japan strongly condemned the killing, saying an "atrocious act of terrorism" had been committed and the nation was "outraged by the horrific act".
Japanese and Jordanian authorities had been negotiating for days to swap Goto and Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh for an Iraqi woman who is on death row in Jordan for her role in a 2005 triple bombing attack in Amman.
Isis had said that if the woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, was not returned by Friday morning, it would first kill Kaseasbeh, who was captured when his plane crashed in Syria last month, then Goto.
The negotiations appear to have broken down over Jordan's insistence on receiving proof the pilot was still alive. Yasuhide Nakayama, Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister, said on Saturday that they were "in a state of deadlock".
There was no mention of the fate of Kaseasbeh in yesterday's video, which showed Goto kneeling in the desert wearing an orange outfit, with the black-clad executioner known as "Jihadi John" standing beside him.
"To the Japanese Government: You, like your foolish allies in the Satanic coalition, have yet to understand that we, by Allah's grace, are an Islamic caliphate with authority and power, an entire army thirsty for your blood," the man said in English, according to the Site Intelligence group.
"Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife 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 man said.
The video shows Goto's beheading, then a body lying on the ground with a head on top of it.
The Japanese Government condemned the gruesome video.
"I feel indignation over this immoral and heinous act of terrorism," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters after convening an emergency Cabinet meeting. "When I think of the grief of his family, I am left speechless."
"Kenji has died, and my heart is broken. Facing such a tragic death, I'm just speechless," Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, told reporters.
"I was hoping Kenji might be able to come home," said Goto's brother Junichi Goto. "I was hoping he would return and thank everyone for his rescue, but that's impossible, and I'm bitterly disappointed."
White House officials said they were trying to authenticate the video.
"The United States strongly condemns Isis' actions, and we call for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. "We stand in solidarity with our ally Japan."
Goto, a 47-year-old father of three, including two daughters under the age of 2, was a freelance video journalist who was captured by Isis late last year while trying to secure the release of his compatriot, Haruna Yukawa.
Yukawa, a man who had suffered a series of setbacks in his life and had gone to the Middle East on a voyage of self-discovery, appeared to have been beheaded last week. Goto was shown in a previous video holding a photo of an executed man who appeared to be Yukawa.
The two met while travelling in the region. After Yukawa's capture in August, Goto went back to Syria to try to find him, only to be captured himself in late October.
The men appeared in a hostage video last month while Abe was on a tour of the Middle East. In Cairo, he pledged US$200 million ($276 million) in aid for countries who were taking in refugees from Isis, which has occupied swathes of Syria in particular. Isis initially demanded the same amount as a ransom for the two men. Then, after Yukawa's execution, changed its demand to the prisoner exchange.
On Saturday, Goto's wife, Rinko, issued her first statement. "I fear this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left to secure his release and the life of Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh," she wrote. "I beg the Jordanian and Japanese Government to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands."
Their youngest daughter was only three weeks old when Goto left to try to rescue Yukawa, she said.
- Washington Post-Bloomberg, AP