The U.S. will not pay ransom or swap prisoners to satisfy the Islamic State and spring hostages from their grip in Iraq and Syria, the White House confirmed Sunday, as Japan mourned the apparent beheading of one of its citizens at the hands of the Islamic extremist group.
The Syria-based Islamic State group released a video over the weekend that showed hostage Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, holding the photo of what appeared to be the decapitated body of 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, his countryman.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the killing “outrageous and unforgivable.” The events, which sparked national outrage and anguish in Japan, unfolded after a Friday deadline for a $200 million ransom had passed.
To spare Mr. Goto the same fate, the Islamic State is demanding the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman who faces the death penalty in Jordan for her role in 2005 bombings that killed dozens in the Arab kingdom. Her own belt of explosives failed to detonate.
Officials are working to confirm the authenticity of the video, which features what it believed to be the voice of Mr. Goto demanding for the release of the Islamic State’s “imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi.”
The Islamic State also has killed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, but White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday the U.S. firm policy against paying ransom for terrorist hostages will not change any time soon.
“We don’t either negotiate or make exchanges or pay ransoms,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We think that results in just more cash floating around with these very hateful characters who will just have more ability to ply their trade.”
Some hostage families say they have felt restricted, or even threatened, by the U.S. policy, as they’ve helplessly watched their loved ones face death overseas.
Mr. McDonough said he was aware of the criticism, but declined to divulge details of conversations between the administration and the families.
“We’re going to continue to work very closely with these families,” he added, “because this is an issue of grave concern for us.”
More broadly, one of the Obama administration’s top foreign policy critics said Sunday there is no strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
“ISIS continues to consolidate their position and attract thousands of young people from all over the world,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” using a common acronym for the extremist group.
He said it is “delusional” for anyone to think what the White House is doing will be successful, and that the U.S. has to put combat troops on the ground to turn the tide of the war.
“I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne,” the senator added. “It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.”