By Michael S. Smith II

Beginning 20 January 2015 — whether intentionally or not — the Islamic State eclipsed the attention given to al-Qa’ida following the attack targeting employees of Charlie Hebdo that was executed in France by AQAP’s henchmen. Indeed, the specter of IS was reasserted via a video in which a masked man resembling “Jihadi John,” the terrorist responsible for the beheadings of James Foley and other high-profile hostages, demanded the government of Japan pay a ransom totaling the amount Japan’s prime minister had pledged to contribute to destroy IS in order to save the lives of two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. After the 72-hour deadline set in the first message passed, while concomitantly announcing the execution of one of the Japanese hostages, ransom demands concerning the release of the Kenji Goto were amended to seek an exchange for a female terrorist, Sajida al-Rishawi, who was captured by Jordanian authorities in 2005 after she failed to detonate a suicide vest in an attack attributed to al-Qa’ida. In a subsequent message, Kenji Goto noted that further delays in the proposed exchange would result in the execution of a Jordanian pilot captured by IS late in December 2014, “followed by” the execution of Goto. Days later, a video highlighting the execution of Kenji Goto was posted to several websites. The same day, IS supporters promoted a video that highlights the execution of an alleged “Jordanian intelligence agent,” who was purportedly captured by the group’s “security service.” Meanwhile, the status of the Jordanian pilot captured by IS remains unclear. Yet, according to the messages concerning him conveyed by Kenji Goto, there is reason to believe he may have been killed prior to the beheading of Goto.

In the video released on 20 January, a masked man who resembles Jihadi John demanded the government of Japan pay a “200 Million” ransom within 72 hours in order to save the lives of two Japanese hostages. Dressed in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by detainees of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other facilities used by the US to hold known and suspected terrorists, the men kneeling on each side of the masked man were identified as Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa.

Addressing the Prime Minister of Japan, the masked man states:

You have proudly donated 100 Million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims. So the life of this Japanese citizen [pointing with the knife to a person identified earlier in the footage as Kenji Goto] will cost you 100 Million. And, in an attempt to stop the expansion of the Islamic State, you donated another 100 Million to train [forces organized to fight] against the mujahidin. And so the life of this Japanese citizen [pointing with the knife to a person identified earlier in the footage as Haruna Yukawa] will cost you another 100 Million.

Continuing, the masked man concludes the message with the following remarks: “And to the Japanese public, just as your government has made a foolish decision to pay 200 Million to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision by paying the 200 Million to save the lives of your citizens. Otherwise this knife will become your nightmare.”

Oddly, a denomination was not specified by the masked man issuing the ransom demands of “100 Million” for each Japanese hostage. Also intriguing: Shadows on each hostage’s face were cast in different directions. This indicated that either a lighting rig was placed before them as they sat in a desert landscape — Why bother with using a lighting rig in a sunny, cloudless environment? — or that images of the two men’s faces were imposed over the faces of stand-ins. Or the video was shot in a studio. (Note: There is not evidence additional lighting was used to produced the video that highlights the execution of Kenji Goto.)

Image distributed with the 24 January 2015 message orated by Kenji Goto

On 24 January 2015, in a message ostensibly orated by Kenji Goto, the execution of the other Japanese hostage was announced. Also announced was a new set of demands: The government of Jordan’s release of a female terrorist, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for Goto. Reportedly a sister of a close associate of al-Qa’ida in Iraq founding emir Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Sajida al-Rishawi has been imprisoned in Jordan since her suicide vest failed to detonate in a 2005 attack in Amman.

This message was distributed with an image of Kenji Goto holding up images of Haruna Yukawa; one of which is ostensibly a photo taken of his remains after he was beheaded. The following is a transcript of this message:

I am Kenji Goto Jogo. You have seen the photo of my cell mate Haruna Yukawa, slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate. You were warned. You were given a deadline, and so my captives (sic) acted upon their words.

[Prime Minister] Abe, you killed Haruna. You did not take the threats of my captors seriously, and you did not act within the 72 hours.

Rigo, my beloved wife, I love you and I miss my two daughters. Please don’t let Abe do the same for my case. Don’t give up. You alone, with our family, friends and my colleagues in the independent press must continue to pressure our government. Their demand is easier. They are being fair: They no longer want money. So you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida al-Rishawi.

It is simple: You give them Sajida, and I will be released. At the moment, it actually looks possible. And our government (sic) are indeed a stone’s throw away. Now our government representatives are ironically in Jordan, where they’re sister, Sajida, is held prisoner by the Jordanian regime.

Again, I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life: You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her!

Rigo, these could be my last hours in this world, and I may be a dead man speaking. Don’t let these be my last words you ever hear. Don’t let Abe kill me.

One Twitter account popular among IS supporters that the DOWNRANGE team (ie Kronos Advisory analysts and SMEs) observed broadcasting this message, @kwms27, has been suspended. So too has another popular account the team observed promoting this material, @tgareerr7; however, the account’s manager(s) soon opened a new account with a similar handle, @tgareerr5, which had amassed a following of more than 2,200 accounts on this material’s publication date. Another popular account the team observed promoting this material, @bakoon7 — whose original tweet regarding this new message, along with the list of accounts used to retweet it is available here — was briefly suspended. This account was, however, still active on this material’s publication date.

Image distributed with the 27 January 2015 message orated by Kenji Goto

On 27 January 2015, Twitter accounts used to distribute IS propaganda began distributing links to a new audio message that was ostensibly delivered by Kenji Goto. Accompanying the message was a photo of Kenji Goto holding up a photo of the Jordanian pilot captured by IS late in December 2014. Unlike the photos taken at the time of his capture, in the photo ostensibly held up by Goto — the origins of which are unknown to the DOWNRANGE team — the pilot has a beard.

The following is a transcript of this message that was titled “The Second Public Message of ‘Kenji Goto Jogo’ to his Family and the Government of Japan”:

I’m Kenji Goto Jogo. To Rigo, the people of Japan, and the Japanese government: I’ve been told this is my last message. And I’ve also been told that the barrier of extracting my freedom is now just the Jordanian government delaying the handover of Sajida [al-Rishawi].

Tell the Japanese government to put all their political pressure on Jordan. Time is now running very short. It is me for her. What seems to be so difficult to understand?

She has been a prisoner for a decade, and I have only been a prisoner for a few months.

Her for me! A straight exchange.

Any more delays by the Jordanian government will mean that they are responsible for the death of their pilot [Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh], which will then be followed by mine.

I only have 24 hours left to live. And the pilot has even less.

Please, don’t leave us to die. Any more delaying tactics will simply see both of us getting killed.

The ball is now in the Jordanians’ court.

A screenshot of deadline countdown clock distributed by IS supporters via Twitter

On 28 January 2015, another audio message accompanied only by an image of an Arabic-language written statement was distributed via Twitter by IS supporters. The voice of the speaker closely resembles that of the orator of the prior messages attributed to Kenji Goto.

The following is a transcript of the message:

I’m Kenji Goto Jogo. This is a voice message I’ve been told to send to you: If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset 29th January, Mosul time, the Jordanian Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh will be killed immediately.

Screenshot of the video highlighting the beheading of Kenji Goto

On 31 January 2015, a new video featuring a masked man who resembles Jihadi John emerged, in which the footage and an accompanying image of Kenji Goto’s remains are presented in a manner that suggests Jihadi John beheaded him. The following is a transcript of the message conveyed in this video by a terrorist resembling Jihadi John:

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.

Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, we 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.

Screenshot of the video highlighting the beheading of an alleged Jordanian “intelligence agent”

Earlier on 31 January 2015, IS supporters tweeted links to a video that highlights the beheading of an alleged Jordanian “intelligence agent” who was purportedly captured by IS’s “security service.” In it, the alleged intelligence agent appears disoriented as he acknowledges his role spying on IS.

Beheading an agent of Jordanian intelligence would likely do little to improve IS’s position in any negotiations concerning the release of the Jordanian pilot captured by the group’s members. And the publishers of that video were almost certainly not operating in a vacuum — they could have postponed the release of the video until after any negotiations concerning the captured pilot concluded. Meanwhile, according to the above messages, notions that the pilot’s release was ever in the cards may be the results of misapprehensions concerning the contents of the litany of messages released about the status of Kenji Goto. Indeed, at no point do these messages indicate IS intended to release the captured pilot.

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