Update as of 5:03 a.m. EST: Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday that there was no word from the Islamic State group, which is holding two Japanese men hostage, after a deadline to pay a ransom of $200 million had expired Friday afternoon. Suga added that the situation of the hostages -- Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa -- is still unknown, according to Reuters.
Update as of 2:30 a.m. EST: A message posted on a forum popular among the Islamic State group’s militants and its sympathizers gave a warning that the “countdown has begun” to kill the two Japanese hostages held by the Sunni militant group, as the deadline to pay a $200 million ransom for their release had passed, according to a report from The Associated Press, cited by Fox News.
The post appeared on Friday showing a clock counting down to zero along with images of several hostages who have been previously killed by ISIS. However, there were no images of the Japanese hostages -- Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa -- in the post, according to the report.
The mother of one of the Japanese nationals held hostage by the Islamic State group pleaded for the safe release of her son on Friday as the deadline for a $200 million ransom neared. In a video released Tuesday, ISIS threatened to kill two Japanese hostages -- Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa -- if the government failed to pay the ransom within 72 hours.
The Japanese government, which has been trying to secure the release of the two hostages, estimates the deadline will expire at 2:50 p.m. Friday local time (12:50 a.m. EST). Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, went to Syria in an attempt to rescue Yukawa, 42, who is believed to have been kidnapped in August 2014, The Associated Press reported. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to save the lives of the two hostages, but has also said that the country will not give in to terrorism.
"My son Kenji is not an enemy of the people of the Islamic faith. I can only pray as a mother for his release," Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, reportedly said. "If I could offer my life I would plead that my son be released, it would be a small sacrifice on my part.
"He only went to rescue his friend. He has always looked out for weaker people, he was always helping weaker children than him," Ishido reportedly said.
Japan's national broadcaster NHK reported that it had received a message from an ISIS spokesperson claiming that a statement on the two hostages would be released soon.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that the country was trying all possible channels to contact the Islamic State group but that it had so far heard nothing about the current condition of the two Japanese citizens.
"The government is continuing to work in unison to gather information and make every efforts for their release," Suga said Friday, according to Reuters. "We are in an extremely severe situation.
"There is no change to our stance that we will not give in to terrorism and will contribute to the international response to terrorism. As we make utmost efforts for their swift release, we are negotiating through all available channels,” Suga reportedly said, when asked if authorities would pay the ransom.
Meanwhile, reports, citing sources, claimed that negotiations to secure the hostages' release have been in progress since as early as November, when Goto's wife initially received ransom emails, apparently from the Sunni militant group.