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Japan mourns murdered journalist but vows to continue fighting terrorism

Kenji Goto was beheaded by Islamic State militants.

APPALLED AND SADDENED by news of journalist Kenji Goto’s purported beheading by Islamic State extremists, Japan has ordered heightened security but said it would persist with its non-military support for fighting terrorism.

The failure to save Goto raised fears for the life of a Jordanian fighter pilot also held by the militant group that controls about a third of both Syria and Iraq. Unlike some earlier messages delivered in the crisis, the video that circulated online late Saturday purporting to show a militant beheading Goto did not mention the pilot.

Japan Islamic State Junko Ishido, mother of murdered Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. Source: Shizuo Kambayashi

Jordan renewed an offer Sunday to swap an al-Qaeda prisoner for the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who was seized after his F-16 crashed in Syria.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani told The Associated Press that “we are still ready to hand over” Sajida al-Rishawi, who faces death by hanging for her role in triple hotel bombings in Jordan in 2005.

Al-Momani also said his country spared no effort to free Goto.

The slaying of Goto, a freelance reporter whose work focused on refugees, children and other victims of war, shocked this country, which until now had not become directly embroiled in the fight against the militants.

“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,” he said. “We are filled with deep regret.”

Threats from the Islamic State group prompted an order for tighter security at airports and at Japanese facilities overseas, such as embassies and schools, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.

“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, in a separate interview. “I was hoping he would return and thank everyone for his rescue, but that’s impossible, and I’m bitterly disappointed.”

Japan Islamic State Sympathisers for the murdered journalist gathered outside the prime minister's residence. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

According to his friends and family, Goto traveled to Syria in late October to try to save Haruna Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage in August and who was shown as purportedly killed in an earlier video.

“He was kind and he was brave,” said Yukawa’s father Shoichi. “He tried to save my son.”

“It’s utterly heartbreaking,” he said, crying and shaking. “People killing other people — it’s so deplorable. How can this be happening?”

Abe vowed to continue providing humanitarian aid to countries fighting the Islamic State extremists. Bowing to terrorist intimidation would prevent Japan from providing medical assistance and other aid it views as necessary for helping to restore stability in the region, he and other officials say.

Japan Islamic State Muslims residing in Japan offer prayers in Tokyo. Source: Shizuo Kambayashi

But the government spokesman, Suga, said Abe would not link the hostage crisis to his efforts to expand Japan’s military role in “collective self-defence” with the U.S. and other allies.

The White House released a statement in which President Barack Obama also condemned “the heinous murder” and praised Goto’s reporting, saying he “courageously sought to convey the plight of the Syrian people to the outside world.”

The White House said that while it isn’t confirming the authenticity of the video itself, it has confirmed that Goto has been slain. Japan also has deemed the video highly likely to be authentic, said the defense minister, Gen Nakatani.

Read: Islamic State claims it has beheaded Japanese hostage >

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Associated Press

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