As Deadline Passes for ISIS Hostages, Skepticism Over Ransom Demand

PHOTO: Two Japanese citizens appear in a video released by the terror group ISIS overnight Jan. 19, 2015.PlayObtained by ABC News
WATCH ISIS Deadline for Hostage Ransom Passes

The 72-hour deadline ISIS imposed on a $200 million ransom demand for the lives of two Japanese hostages passed on Friday, but intelligence officials and experts on the Islamist terror group said the extortion ploy was political and not financially motivated.

The ISIS executioner "Jihad John" -- so named because of his British accent and the belief he was part of a quartet of British guards who tortured western hostages held in Syria -- specifically cited a pledge the day before by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to donate $200 million in non-military aid to countries fighting ISIS and said the hostages' lives carried the exact same price.

"Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare," Jihad John said, waving his blade in a video released by core-ISIS on Tuesday.

The video showed the Japanese men kneeling on the desert floor in orange jumpsuits with the black-clad terrorist in between them.

"It's more political than financial extortion," one intelligence official deeply familiar with ISIS strategy and tactics told ABC News.

A senior intelligence official added that Washington is primarily focused on any remaining American hostages, noting that a female aid worker in her late twenties is still believed to be in ISIS hands. Ransom demands for her and others later murdered were never taken seriously given the enormous figure demanded by the group and minimal email communication with hostages' families.

Three U.S. hostages, James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter "Abdul-Rahman" Kassig, have been beheaded in gruesome ISIS videos by Jihad John since Aug. 19, as well as Britons David Haines and Alan Henning.

"I don't think there is any real question of any ransom being paid for the Japanese hostages," said terrorism expert J.M. Berger, author of a forthcoming book on ISIS.

PHOTO: Japanese journalists Kenji Goto Jogo, seen left in this April 25, 2014 file photo, and Haruna Yakawa, seen right in this undated photo, appeared in a video released by ISIS, Jan. 20, 2015. Getty Images | NHK
Japanese journalists Kenji Goto Jogo, seen left in this April 25, 2014 file photo, and Haruna Yakawa, seen right in this undated photo, appeared in a video released by ISIS, Jan. 20, 2015.

Notably, Jihad John didn't offer contact information or make payment arrangements even if the Japanese government had wished to pay up -- though Japanese leaders explicitly said they would not fork over any cash in the effort to spare journalist Kenji Goto and adventurer Haruna Yukawa.

“The situation is dire, but the government is determined to continue its utmost efforts toward an early release of the hostages,” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said at a news conference in Japan today. "And Japan will continue to contribute to the international fight against terrorism."

"I think that this is part of the ISIS strategy to increase the cost of participation [in the U.S.-led coalition] for anyone who opposes them," Berger told ABC News. "It's about imposing a political cost, not a financial cost, and to make Japan's political leaders suffer."

The deadline expired in the early hours of this morning, but there have not yet been any public announcements from the captors about the fate of the two men. A video is anticipated, however, one official said.

Goto's mother also made a plea for her son's safety during a news conference today in Japan, saying that he should be saved because he has a wife and 2-week-old baby.

"Kenji is not the enemy of Islamic State," his mother, Junko Ishidou, told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo.

The 72-hour demand -- a first by ISIS -- followed a similar video demand that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued early last month, when the rival terror group based in Yemen gave President Obama three days to meet unspecified demands or they would execute journalist Luke Somers. Somers and another western hostage were killed by AQAP militants during a failed hostage rescue mission by Navy SEALs as the deadline expired.

ISIS demanded $150 million last year for American journalist James Foley's release but sources in the U.S. government and others close to his family later said the astronomical figure was not considered a serious demand. Foley was beheaded by Jihad John in an ISIS video on Aug. 19. Some deadlines communicated privately to families of U.S. hostages came and passed without incident and in other cases they were slain by the terrorists, sources have told ABC News.

U.S. and British officials say they know the identity of Jihad John, but have not made it public as they are actively seeking ways to capture or kill him.

ABC News’ Meghan Keneally contributed to this report.