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Japan looking into hostage video

Japanese officials are investigating a new online message purporting to be from the extremist Islamic State group about the two Japanese hostages it holds.

The message claimed one hostage has been killed and demanded a prisoner exchange for the other.

But the post was deleted quickly, and militants on a website affiliated with the Islamic State group disagreed about the message's authenticity.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said government ministers were holding an emergency meeting about the new message.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe told reporters as he rushed into his office that the release of the new message was "an outrageous and unforgivable act", adding: "We demand their immediate release."

Kyodo News agency reported that the same video has been emailed to the wife of one of the hostages.

The Islamic State group had threatened on Tuesday to behead the men within 72 hours unless it received a 200 million US dollars (£133 million) ransom.

Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of 47-year-old Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war. Japanese diplomats had left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the militants holding the hostages.

Mr Abe had a telephone call with Jordanian King Abullah II on Saturday, the state-run Petra news agency reported, without elaborating on what they spoke about.

One militant on the Islamic State-affiliated website warned that Saturday's new message was fake, while another said that the message was intended only to go to the Japanese journalist's family.

A third militant on the website noted that the video was not issued by al-Furqan, which is one of the media arms of the Islamic State group and has issued past videos involving hostages and beheadings. Saturday's message did not bear al-Furqan's logo.

The militants on the website post comments using pseudonyms, so their identities could not be independently confirmed. However, their confusion over the video matched that of Japanese officials and outside observers.

Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom. Japan has joined other major industrial nations in opposing ransom payments. US and British officials said they advised against paying.

Mr Goto's mother made an appeal for the journalist's rescue.

"Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido. "My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State."

Mrs Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Mr Goto had left for Syria less than two weeks after his child was born in October to try to rescue Mr Yukawa.

Mr Abe said after a late-night Cabinet meeting: "Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and unforgivable. We feel strong indignation, and vehemently condemn the act."

Defence minister Gen Nakatani said officials were trying to verify the video and the photo shown in it.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said US intelligence officials were also working to confirm whether it was authentic.

"We stand in solidarity with Japan and are coordinating closely," he said, and called for the immediate release of people held by the Islamic State group.

Mr Abe said the government of Japan will not succumb to terrorism and will continue to cooperate with the international community in the fight against it.

He said Japan is still taking every possible step to win the release of both hostages and will continue the effort.

Mrs Ishido, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that in the purported message her son "seemed to be taking seriously what may be happening to him as well".

"This is no time to be optimistic," she said.

But she was also sceptical about the voice claiming to be her son. "Kenji's English is very good. He should sound more fluent," she said.

Foreign minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to issue a safety warning to all Japanese citizens traveling outside the country through its embassies around the world.

He said the nightmarish situation had left him "at a loss for words".

US president Barack Obama has condemned what he said was "the brutal murder" of Mr Yukawa.

He said in a statement that the United States will stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Japan and calls for the immediate release of the second Japanese hostage.

The statement was issued in Germany where Mr Obama stopped briefly on his way to India.

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