Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for the immediate release of a Japanese journalist held by Islamic State after an audio recording claimed that a fellow Japanese captive had been executed.
Japanese government officials said they had not confirmed the authenticity of an image of what appeared to be Haruna Yukawa. Abe and other officials demanded the immediate release of the remaining Japanese captive, reporter Kenji Goto.
Yukawa was seized by militants in August, after he went to Syria in what he described as a plan to launch a security company. Goto, a veteran war correspondent, went into Syria in late October seeking to secure Yukawa's release, according to friends and business associates.
A video, which was released on YouTube on Saturday before being deleted, showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt and a recording of what appeared to be him speaking in English.
In the apparent recording, Goto says Yukawa had been executed. But the journalist said the government of Japan could take action to save his life.
“We are using every diplomatic channel and means to work towards a release," Abe told reporters in brief remarks after a hastily called meeting with his foreign, defence and other ministers.
"This act of terrorism is an outrageous and unacceptable act of violence," Abe said. "I feel a strong sense of anger and firmly condemn this. I again strongly demand the immediate release of Mr. Kenji Goto unharmed."
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the recording. If confirmed it would be the first time Islamic State, which has beheaded several foreign hostages, has issued a recording rather than a video to announce such a killing.
U.S. intelligence agencies were working to verify the authenticity of the recording, U.S. National Security Council deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.
A deadline by Islamic State militants for Japan to pay a $200 million ransom for Yukawa and Goto expired on Friday.
The audio on Saturday purported to record Goto saying the militants would release him in exchange for the release of al-Qaeda linked attempted female suicide bomber Sajida Rishwai, an Iraqi held in Jordan.
In the recording, the voice identified as Goto's says that the group has dropped its demand for a ransom.
“I want to believe in the government and wait," Goto's mother, Junko Ishido told reporters. “The Japanese government will not let my son down. He will come back.”