ISIS releases new audio message of Japanese hostage

January 29, 2015 7:52 am

Islamic State released a message late Wednesday (local time)
purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for
Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaeda.The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting
prisoner swap to Islamic State () in a desperate attempt to save a
Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill,
along with Mr Goto.

A woman holds a candle outside the prime minister’s official residence
as part of a demonstration in support of Kenji Goto, in Tokyo. Photo /
AP

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians
must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday
(local time), or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

Yesterday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine”.
King
Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home.
However, meeting Isis’ demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber
linked to al-Qaeda would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach
to the extremists.
Efforts to release Mr al-Kaseasbeh and Mr
Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online
ultimatum claiming Isis would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the
al-Qaeda-linked prisoner was not freed.
The scope of a possible swap and of Isis’ demands also remained unclear.
Jordanian
government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade
the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman
hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Mr Al-Momani made no mention of
Mr Goto.
Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with
Isis militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner
releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations
with extremists.
The release of Mr al-Rishawi, the
al-Qaeda-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the
militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and
Iraq. Jordan is part of a US-led military alliance that has carried out
airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq in recent
months.
Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and
the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts
said.
“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the
government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan
Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in
Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him,
the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will
lose trust in the political regime.”
The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.
Several
dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in
Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.
“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.
The
pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was
allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.
“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.
Earlier, he criticised the government’s handling of the crisis.
“I
contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian
government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does”.
Jordan
reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through
religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the
hostages.
In his brief statement, Mr al-Momani only said Jordan
is willing to swap Mr al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an
exchange is being arranged. Mr Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her
involvement in the al-Qaeda attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60
people.
In Tokyo, Mr Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Please
save Kenji’s life,” Ms Ishido said, begging Mr Abe to work with the
Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Mr Goto.
“Kenji
has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ms
Ishido said both Mr Abe and ’s main government spokesman had
declined to meet with her.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did
not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his
condemnation of the Isis hostage-taking.
“The heinous terrorist
act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament on Thursday in
response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.
Later, a few
dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence,
holding banners expressing hopes for Mr Goto’s release. “I have been
trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr Goto will return. I have
this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Mr Goto.
The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.
Muath
al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seised after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in
December near Isis’ de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first
foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition
began its airstrikes in August.
This is the first time the group
has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages.
Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although
the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.
Mr
Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria,
apparently while trying to rescue Mr Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage
last summer.
Islamic State broke with al-Qaeda’s central
leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it
reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which
battled US forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

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