Jordan ready to trade inmate for pilot held by ISIL – USA TODAY
Jordan is ready to swap a prisoner convicted of a deadly terrorist attack on a hotel for a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic State militants, a top Jordan official said Wednesday, but there was no word on whether a Japanese hostage facing a 24-hour deadline would be included in any exchange.
Mohammed Al Momani, Jordan’s minister for media affairs and communications, said in a statement that Jordan “is ready to release the Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed,” according to Jordan’s state-run news agency, Petra.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on Twitter that Jordan had asked for “evidence about the health and safety” of the pilot, but that it had not received any response.
Al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman, has been sentenced to death in Jordan for involvement in a 2005 terror attack by suicide bombers on an Amman hotel that killed 60 people, most of them attending a wedding reception. She survived after her suicide vest failed to explode.
Al-Kaseasbeh, the pilot, was captured by the militants after his fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria last month.
An exchange would run counter to Jordan’s hard-line approach toward Islamic militants that, like its U.S. ally, has included a refusal to negotiate with extremists
A swap could also set a precedent for negotiating with a militant group that previously has not publicly demanded prisoner releases.
An online message purportedly from the extremist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, warned late Tuesday that al-Kaseasbeh and the other hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, would be killed within 24 hours unless there was a prisoner swap.
A video released by IS-linked Twitter accounts on Tuesday featured a still photo of Goto and audio of a message purportedly from him, according to the SITE intellgience group, a U.S.-based organization that analyzes terrorist organizations.
“I’ve been told this is my last message, and I’ve also been told that the barrier of extracting my freedom is now just the Jordanian government delaying the handover of Sajida,” Goto purportedly says in the video, directed toward his family. “Tell the Japanese government to put all their political pressure on Jordan. Time is now running very short. It is me for her. What seems to be so difficult to understand?”
Goto says that any delays by the Japanese “will mean they’re responsible for the death of their pilot, which will then be followed by mine. I only have 24 hours left to live, and the pilot has even less. Please don’t leave us to die.”
The parents of Goto and al-Kaseasbeh appealed for their governments to secure their release Wednesday. Japan’s government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said Wednesday that Tokyo is doing all it can to secure Goto’s release, NHK TV reported.
The 24-hour deadline was to expire late Wednesday Japan time. ISIL warned it would be the group’s last message and that any delay tactic would result in the hostages’ deaths.
Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told reporters: “We don’t have much time left, it is extremely urgent. I want the government to do whatever it takes.”
She read to reporters her plea Wednesday to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Please save Kenji’s life,” she said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government to try to save Goto. “Kenji has only a little time left.”
In Jordan, the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, beseeched the government “to meet the demands” of the group.
“All people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan,” he said.
Abe earlier expressed outrage at the latest threat.
This was an extremely despicable act and we feel strong indignation. We strongly condemn that,” he said. “While this is a tough situation, we remain unchanged in our stance of seeking help from the Jordanian government in securing the early release of Mr. Goto.”
In Jordan, about 200 of the pilot’s relatives protested outside the prime minister’s office in the capital Amman, where they urged the government to meet the captors’ demands.
Bassam Al-Manasseer, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, earlier told Bloomberg News the negotiations are taking place through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding that Jordan and Japan won’t negotiate directly with ISIL and won’t free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto only.
Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama was in Amman to coordinate hostage-release efforts with Jordan, but refused comment on details of the talks early Wednesday.
Goto was abducted after entering Syria to search for Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, the 42-year-old founder of a private security firm who was taken captive in August, according to reports on Japanese television.
In a video released Jan 20, ISIL demanded a $200 million ransom for the release of Goto and Yukawa within 72 hours. Abe refused to pay a ransom.
Another video released Saturday showed a still photo of Goto holding a photo that apparently shows the dead body of Yukawa. In the video, Goto said the militants had changed their ransom demand and wanted the release of al-Rishawi. USA TODAY could not independently verify either video.
Contributing: Associated Press