Jordan demands evidence from Isis kidnapped pilot is still alive, no word on Japanese hostage

January 30, 2015 8:55 am

Jordan demanded proof from Islamic State militants that a Jordanian
pilot they are holding is still alive, despite purported threats by the
group to kill the airman at sunset unless an al-Qaida prisoner is freed
from death row in Jordan.

A combo picture shows Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh (L) and Sajida al-Rishawi (R), a would-be suicide bomber. Photo / AFP
The militants’ deadline passed without
word on the fate of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, and a fellow
hostage, journalist Kenji Goto.
Goto’s wife Rinko, who
had kept silent up to now, made a desperate plea for her husband’s life
and revealed that she has exchanged emails with his captors.
“In
the past 20 hours the kidnappers have sent me what appears to be their
latest and final demand,” she said in a statement. She said that if the
al-Qaida prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, was not released by sunset, “the
Jordanian pilot will be executed immediately.”

“I beg the Jordanian and Japanese government to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands,” she wrote.
Jordan has offered, in principle, to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but has made no mention of Goto.

Still image taken from a video posted on YouTube by jihadists shows Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. Photo / AP
On
Thursday afternoon, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani
suggested any possible swap was on hold and said al-Rishawi was still in
Jordan.
“We want to see a proof of life of the Jordanian pilot
and then we can talk about the exchange between Sajida al-Rishawi and
the Jordanian pilot,” he said.
Jordan, a staunch US ally in the
region, faces difficult choices in the hostage crisis. Any swap with the
Islamic State group would run counter to its tough approach toward
Islamic extremists, but it also faces domestic pressure to bring the
pilot home.
The purported threat to kill the pilot came in an
audio message posted online late Wednesday. The message was read in
English by a voice the Japanese government said was likely that of Goto.
It warned that the pilot would be executed unless al-Rishawi is
delivered to the Turkish border at sunset, Iraq time. It was not clear
what Goto’s fate would be if the woman is not released.
The
Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the
recording, which was distributed on Twitter by Islamic State-affiliated
accounts.
Al-Rishawi has close family ties to the al-Qaida branch
in Iraq, a forerunner of the Islamic State group, and was involved in
deadly Amman hotel bombings by al-Qaida a decade ago. Her explosives
belt failed to detonate. She was arrested shortly after fleeing the
scene and was sentenced to death by hanging.
The hostage drama
began last week with the release of a video by the Islamic State group
showing Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.
They
were kneeling in orange jumpsuits between a masked man who threatened to
kill them within 72 hours unless paid a $200 million ransom. That
demand has since shifted to one for the release of al-Rishawi.
The militants have reportedly killed Yukawa, 42, although that has not been confirmed.
Goto’s
wife wrote that her husband’s captors contacted her for the first time
by email on Dec. 2. “Since then, there have been several emails between
the group and me as I have fought to save his life,”‘ she wrote.
“My husband and I have two very young daughters,” she said in the statement.
“Our
baby girl was only three weeks old when Kenji left,” she added. “I hope
our oldest daughter, who is just two, will get to see her father again.
I want them both to grow up knowing their father. My husband is a good
and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who
suffer.”

Junko
Ishido, mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto who was taken hostage
by the Islamic State group, speaks during a press conference. Photo / AP

Both Japan and Jordan have scrambled to deal with the crisis.
Any swap with the Islamic State group would set a precedent for dealing with the hostage-takers.
The
group has not publicly demanded prisoner releases before. Previous
captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the
governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.
Jordan’s
main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.
Jordan is part of a US-led military alliance that has carried out
airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq in recent
months.
At the same time, Jordan’s King Abdullah II faces growing
domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. The pilot’s family has
staged protests, complaining the government is not doing enough to win
his release.
The pilot’s capture has hardened popular opposition among Jordanians to the air strikes, analysts said.
Al-Kaseasbeh
was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the
Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the
first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the US
and allies began striking the Islamic State more than four months ago.

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