Two Japanese hostages were unveiled by ISIS this morning in a video demanding a $200 million ransom: A journalist named Kenji Goto, and "security contractor" named Haruna Yukawa. But Yukawa is less a private mercenary than a war tourist—one who traveled to Syria in the wake of a serious mental breakdown.
The New York Times describes Yukawa as "the chief executive of the private security firm PMC," which was exactly the fantasy life he'd tried to create as his actual existence quickly crumbled. According to a Reuters profile from this past summer, when he was initially captured, Yukawa fled his home in Japan to essentially play make believe:
Over the past decade, he had lost his wife to lung cancer, lost a business and his house to bankruptcy and been forced to live in a public park for almost a month, according to Yukawa's father and an online journal he maintained.
By his own account, he had changed his name to the feminine-sounding Haruna, attempted to kill himself by cutting off his genitals and came to believe he was the reincarnation of a cross-dressing Manchu princess who had spied for Japan in World War Two.
By late 2013, Yukawa had also begun a flirtation with Japan's extreme right-wing politics and cultivated a new persona as a self-styled security consultant, according to his Facebook page and blog posts, though he never did any work as a consultant.
Although he had never learned to handle a weapon and described himself as a "very gentle" person, Yukawa portrayed himself online as a soldier of fortune. A visit to the Tokyo address of his paper company, Private Military Company, revealed a building with numerous small, unmarked offices. The firm was set up for a range of businesses including handling pet goods, according to a company registry.
Goto, a respected freelance journalist who captured footage of Syrian combat zones for foreign media, was filing dispatches from Syria and Turkey. But self-styled military contractor Yukawa didn't seem to do any actual military contracting—rather than selling security to international business interests, he toured war-ravaged Syria as a spectator, updating his blog and posting images of himself and the people he met:
He blogged that he wanted "to devote the rest of my life to others and save many people," having befriended members of the Free Syrian Army, still locked in a fight to depose Bashar al-Assad. They described him as gentle and friendly. But without any real combat competency or training of any kind—internet fantasy enthusiasm doesn't get you very far—most of Yukawa's contributions seems to the cause seem to have gone to Facebook, not freedom fighting:
A video uploaded by ISIS militants after Yukawa's FSA friends were routed shows him on the ground, filthy and prostrate, trying to explain to his new captors why he was caught with an AK-47. Like his compatriot Goto, Hurana Yukawa is, by all accounts of those who've met him, personal history, and common sense, entirely harmless to everyone but himself. And now only $200 million can save their lives.