A new post on a forum popular with ISIS militants claims the two Japanese captives are running out of time. The "countdown has begun" for the group to kill Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa unless Japan pays $200 million in ransom, according to the post, published today. Japan says it's analyzing the message as it attempts to contact the men's captors through local tribes, though ISIS' original 72-hour deadline has expired, the AP reports. "The situation remains severe, but we are doing everything we can to win the release of the two Japanese hostages," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga says. Meanwhile, Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, is pleading with the government to save her son, who "only went to rescue his friend," Reuters reports.
Documents show Japan considered a military strike on ISIS militants but found that one would be outside its legal realm. A Japanese journalist who tried to free Yukawa in September and an expert on Islamic law said yesterday they have an ISIS contact and were willing to negotiate with the group, the AP reports; it isn't clear if Japan was agreeable. Finding the captors would be no easy task: Experts reviewing the hostage video—which seems to show Goto and Yukawa in jumpsuits in the desert—suspect it was actually shot in a studio, the AP notes. Shadows converge, indicating two light sources rather than one bright sun, while noiseless "wind" (perhaps from a fan) doesn't appear to kick up dust. NHK reports ISIS will give a statement on the two captives "soon." (Read more Japan stories.)