TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister expressed outrage on Sunday at an image released Saturday that appeared to show the decapitated body of one of two Japanese hostages captured by Islamic State militants, and President Obama condemned what he called a “brutal murder.”
The kidnappers had threatened to kill the men if a Friday deadline passed for a $200 million ransom from Japan. On Saturday, a video appeared in which one of the hostages, Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, was shown holding a photo of what appeared to be the decapitated body of the other hostage, Haruna Yukawa, 42, an adventurer.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said that while experts were still analyzing the photo, it had “a high chance of being real.” Speaking on a television debate show, Mr. Abe condemned the apparent killing of Mr. Yukawa as an “outrageous and unforgivable act of violence,” and demanded the immediate release of Mr. Goto.
The United States and Japanese governments have been scrambling to authenticate the video containing the image, and an accompanying audio of what purports to be Mr. Goto’s voice conveying a new demand by his captors. SITE Intelligence, an organization that tracks jihadist propaganda, said that it believed the image of Mr. Yukawa’s dead body was authentic. But Al Furqan, a media arm of the Islamic State that has in the past posted videos of the group’s beheadings, had not released anything confirming the apparent killing. A statement by SITE said the video was posted on Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The audio message accompanying the video said the Islamic State no longer demanded ransom for the second Japanese hostage, but instead offered to free him in exchange for the release of a woman facing the death penalty in Jordan for her role in a deadly 2005 bombing there. Mr. Obama, who was traveling to India, issued a statement saying that the “United States strongly condemns the brutal murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa by the terrorist group ISIL.”
American officials also appear close to concluding the video was real. Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in an email Saturday night that “the U.S. intelligence community has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video.”
If the video is authentic, then the other hostage, Mr. Goto, remains alive, and is still being used by the Islamic State as a bargaining chip. Mr. Yukawa, a self-described military contractor who was captured in Syria in August, would be the first Japanese person to be killed by the Islamic State, which has established a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq financed partly by ransom payments for kidnapped foreigners.
The SITE statement said a still image of Mr. Goto in shackles shows him holding a photo of a beheaded man, which it said was Mr. Yukawa. The video that included the still image was removed from YouTube early Saturday. The Islamic State has beheaded three Americans and two Britons in recent months, and showcased the killings via Internet video postings.