TOKYO — The deadline to pay ransom for two Japanese hostages of the Islamic State group was fast approaching Friday, as the mother of one of the captives appealed for her son's rescue.
With time running short, the mother of one of the hostages, 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto, appealed for understanding and urged the government to help him.
"Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido, who described herself as an educator.
"My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State," she said in a tearful appearance in Tokyo.
Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria to try to rescue the other hostage, 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa.
"My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance," she said.
In very Japanese fashion, Ishido apologized repeatedly for "all the trouble my son has caused."
The status of efforts to free the two men was unclear, with hours to go before the presumed deadline.
The national broadcaster NHK reported that it had received a message from Islamic State "public relations" saying that a statement would be released soon.
Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan has been scrambling for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war. Two Japanese who said they have contacts with a leader in the Islamic State group offered Thursday to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea.
Ishido said she had not had any contact with the government.
The militants threatened in a video message to kill the hostages within 72 hours unless they receive $200 million. Based on the video's release time, that deadline would expire sometime Friday.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga reiterated Friday that Japan was trying all possible channels to reach those holding the hostages, and that its policy of providing humanitarian aid for those displaced by conflict in the Middle East was unchanged.
"We are doing our very best to coordinate with related parties, including through tribal chiefs," Suga said.
Suga confirmed Thursday that the government had confirmed the identity of the two hostages, despite obvious discrepancies in shadows and other details in the ransom video that suggest it may have been altered.
Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said their lives were the top priority.
Tokyo lacks strong diplomatic connections in the Middle East, and Japanese diplomats left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the group holding the hostages.
There was no sign the government had taken action on an offer to try to negotiate with the Islamic State group by Ko Nakata, an expert on Islamic law and former professor at Kyoto's Doshisha University, along with freelance journalist Kousuke Tsuneoka.
Nakata and Tsuneoka, who both are converts to Islam, said Thursday that they have a contact in the Islamic State group and were prepared to go.
Nakata and Tsuneoka, who was released after being held hostage in Afghanistan in 2010, visited Syria in September in an unsuccessful attempt to gain Yukawa's release. Goto was seized sometime after late October when he entered the area.
It is unclear if the two would be allowed to go to Syria, since they have been questioned by Japan's security police on suspicion of trying to help a Japanese college student visit Syria to fight with the Islamic State group.
Since Japan's military operates only in a self-defense capacity a home any rescue attempt would require help from an ally like the United States.
Associated Press writers Kaori Hitomi and Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.