Fate of Japanese Hostages Unknown as Islamic State's Deadline Passes

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 23 January 2015. The mother of one of the Japanese men held by the Islamic State militant group implored the captors to release her son as a 72-hour deadline for paying a ransom approached. EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON

By Takehiko Kambayashi and Weedah Hamzah

TOKYO/BEIRUT (DPA) — The fate of two Japanese hostages being held by the Islamic State was unknown on Friday as a deadline set by the jihadist group expired.

"So far the captors are silent, but we expect something from them soon," said an activist, who is based in the north-eastern Syrian province of Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold.

He said the 72-hour deadline for payment of a ransom had passed early on Friday.


The activist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from the extremists, said Islamic State had established contact with the Japanese government.

"The situation remains extremely severe, and we just continue to do what we have to do for them to be released as early as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

Japanese authorities believed the ransom deadline was 2:50 pm (0550 GMT) on Friday.

The militant group threatened in a video posted on the internet Tuesday to kill Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, who works for a private security firm, unless a 200-million-dollar (178-million-euro) ransom payment was made within 72 hours.

Asked if there has been any contact from the group, Suga said, "Nothing in particular."

The top government spokesman declined to give details of the ongoing diplomatic efforts.

Earlier in the day, Goto's mother Junko Ishido implored the captors at a news conference, "Please allow him to be released."

"Kenji is not an enemy of Islamic State. He went only to rescue his acquaintance," Ishido said, referring to Yukawa.

In Tuesday's footage, the two hostages appeared in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by hostages previously beheaded by Islamic State.

In Syria meanwhile, the death toll from a Syrian regime raid on an area near the capital Damascus has risen to more than 42 killed among them six children, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombardment targeted a rebel-held district in the region of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. There was no official comment.

More than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria's nearly four-year conflict, according to activists.

In neighboring Lebanon, Lebanese army soldiers clashed throughout the day Friday with members of the jihadist movement Islamic State near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The Lebanese army said late Friday that five of its soldiers were killed and others wounded in ongoing clashes with terrorists in the Tallat al-Hamra region on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa.

The army said that members of the terrorist group attacked an army surveillance post in Tallat al-Hamra near the Lebanese-Syrian border earlier Friday.

It added that a number of gunmen were killed and wounded in the fighting.

Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group have launched several such attacks in recent months on Lebanon's eastern border with Syria.



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