Two Japanese men went to the Middle East looking for action now both face the possibility of being decapitated
Haruna Yukawa, CEO of his own firm, and journalist Kenji Goto went looking for action, now both face the possibility of being beheaded
Dressed in military gear and preparing to fire a Kalashnikov rifle, Haruna Yukawa boasted on Facebook of being in Aleppo, the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war.
A few months later in August the self-proclaimed soldier of fortune and chief executive of his own firm, Private Military Company, would come to widespread attention in Japan when footage of his apparent capture in Syria was posted online by militants.
"I'm no soldier," he declared as he is filmed lying on the ground, with matted brown hair and blood trickling down his face.
Nothing more was heard about Yukawa's fate until yesterday, when new footage showed a black-clad militant brandishing a knife addressing the camera in English, standing between him and Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto.
Both men face the possibility of being decapitated in less than three days unless the Japanese government pays US$200 million ransom to save their lives.
The video marks a sad chapter in the journeys of both men to the war-torn Middle East.
Goto established a video production company, named Independent Press, in Tokyo in 1996, supplying documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks, including public broadcaster NHK.
He has apparently been out of contact since late October after telling family he intended to return to Japan, NHK reported.
In early November, his wife received email demands for about one billion yen (HK$66.04 million) in ransom from a person claiming to be an Islamic State group member, Fuji TV said.
The emailed threats were later confirmed to have come from a sender implicated in the killing of US journalist James Foley, the broadcaster said.
Goto reportedly crossed paths with Yukawa in Aleppo in April last year. Yukawa would join Goto on a trip to Iraq in June to observe the veteran reporter working in a conflict zone.
Pictures on Yukawa's Facebook page show him in Iraq and Syria in July. "I cannot identify the destination," Yukawa wrote in his last blog post. "But the next one could be the most dangerous. I hope to film my fighting scenes."
Yukawa is a 42-year-old widower who reportedly has a history of attempted suicide and self-mutilation.
Over the past decade, he had lost his wife to lung cancer, lost a business and his house to bankruptcy and been forced to live in a public park for almost a month, according to Yukawa's father and an online journal he maintained.
Pictures on the website of Tokyo-based private military firm PMC, which lists Yukawa as its chief executive, show him with right-wing Japanese activists.
Its website says its services include providing "security abroad".
Analysts say Abe's government will likely rebuff the demand for a ransom, even if that condemns the two men to death.
"I don't think Japan has the intangible resources necessary to carry out the ransom money transfer," said Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
The problem is compounded by the fact the demand has been widely reported and, if the two men are freed, it will be clear Tokyo has struck a deal.
That would be difficult for Japan's allies to countenance, especially as Britain and the US have already had a number of their nationals executed after their governments refused to bow to the terrorists' demands.
There is also a precedent to follow. Shosei Koda was beheaded in October 2004 by militants belonging to a group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after Japan had refused to cede to the terrorists' demands.
Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Staff Reporter