Inside Story

ISIL hostages: Japan’s life or death dilemma

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he will never yield to “terrorists” as ransom is demanded for Japanese captives.

Japan has denied being involved in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after the group kidnapped two of its nationals in Syria.

ISIL threatened to kill the men within 72 hours unless Japan paid a ransom of $200m. That’s the exact amount Japan offered on Saturday in non-military aid to countries fighting the armed group.

It left Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trying to strike a balance between pressures at home, and abroad.

Speaking in Tokyo on Wednesday, Abe said: “I ordered the cabinet to save the lives of the hostages using whatever available measures, and by fully utilising all existing diplomatic channels and routes.”

But he added: “We will never yield to the terrorists. We will do our best to fight against this evil terrorism by holding hands together with the international community.”

The ransom demand has again brought into sharp focus the challenge nations are facing when trying to secure the release of hostages. 

So what options are available to Japan as it is drawn into this life or death dilemma? And is Japan’s role overseas conflicting with its stance as a pacifist nation?


Presenter: Sami Zeidan


Matthew Henman – Counter-terrorism expert and manager at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre

Tomohiko Taniguchi – Adviser to the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe 

Richard Weitz – Political and military analyst from the Hudson Institute