ISIL deadline passes with no word on fate of hostages
AMMAN // The fate of a Jordanian fighter pilot and a Japanese reporter held by ISIL remained unclear on Thursday night, after the extremist group’s deadline for the release of a woman militant expired with Amman insisting that it first wanted proof the airman was still alive.
After several days of intense negotiations and threats, Jordan said on Wednesday that it would hand over Sajeda Al Rishawi if the ISIL released Lt Maaz Al Kassasbeh unharmed.
But on Thursday the government seemed to have changed its tone, demanding guarantees that Lt Kassasbeh, 26, whose F-16 fighter jet crashed in north-eastern Syria on December 24, was alive, while also reasserting that it was prepared to hand over Al Rishawi if the pilot was released unharmed.
ISIL first demanded Al Rishawi’s freedom in a video posted on Saturday in which reporter Kenji Goto pleaded for his life while holding a photo that appeared to show the beheading of another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.
Another video on Tuesday gave the Jordanian government 24 hours to release Al Rishawi in exchange for Goto and threatened to kill Lt Kassasbeh if it failed to comply. After Jordan agreed to release Al Rishawi, ISIL released an audio clip purportedly of Goto announcing the extension of the deadline until sunset in Mosul on Thursday.
While the messages from ISIL have promised to release Goto in exchange for Al Rishawi, they have made no mention of releasing Lt Kassasbeh.
“At this point we want to emphasise that we have asked for proof of life from Daesh [ISIL] and we have not received anything yet,” Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Al Momani said on Thursday.
“Rishawi is still in Jordan and the exchange will happen once we receive the proof of life that we asked for.”
Mr Al Momani made no mention of Goto, whose wife Rinko broke her silence with an emotional appeal to Tokyo and Amman to save her husband.
“My husband is a good and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who suffer,” she said.
“I beg the Jordanian and Japanese governments to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands.”
Jordan has said its priority is to see the airman return home safely.
Amman is under heavy pressure at home and from Japan – a major aid donor – to save Lt Kassasbeh as well as Goto.
The crisis has also raised questions about Jordan’s involvement in the US-led international coalition against ISIL, which has stoked resentment in some circles and criticism of King Abdullah.
“The public and parliament should have been consulted before Jordan took part in the coalition,” said a relative of Lt Kassasbeh at a diwan in Amman for the Kerak tribes.
Earlier in the day, the government made it clear that it had exerted utmost efforts to secure the release of the pilot. An official quoted in Al Rai, the government paper, said Jordan had even taken part in sorties last month over the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital near where Lt Kassasbeh plane came down, in an attempt to secure the pilot’s release, as well as initiating negotiations.
The prime minister, Abdullah Nsour briefed parliament on Thursday about the efforts to free Lt Kassasbeh. He spoke of the negotiations and the obstacles negotiators faced, and what he called the bad intentions of ISIL in not offering a serious deal to guarantees the pilot’s release.
Al Rishawi, now in her mid forties, was sentenced to death for her involvement in a triple suicide bombing at an Amman hotel full of wedding guests in 2005 in which nearly 60 people were killed. Her explosives failed to detonate, but her husband who was with her blew himself up. She is currently jailed at Jwaideh prison for women in Amman. The attackers were members of an Iraqi cell dispatched by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda’s Iraq branch who was killed in a US airstrike in 2006.
In 2007, she wrote to King Abdullah asking to be spared from execution. Jordan last month ended an eight-year moratorium on executions, citing an increase in crime.
Though the pilot’s fate is not clear, in the event he is killed “Jordan is expected to carry out the death penalty against Sajida Al Rishawi”, said Marwan Shehadeh, an independent expert in Islamic movements based in Amman.
Authorities will also intensify their crackdown on extremists.
“Jordan is also expected widen the bombing campaign against ISIL” and “further crack down on members of the Salafi jihadist movement”, Mr Shehadeh said.
There are between 7,000 and 8000 members of movement, which is banned in Jordan.
Updated: January 30, 2015 04:00 AM