The most recent deadline for Jordan to release an Islamist prisoner before the Islamic State executed a captured Jordanian pilot passed at sundown Thursday with no indication that an agreement was near on a deal to swap the two people.
Jordan insisted publicly that it needed proof that the pilot was still alive before it would transfer the woman, Sajida al Rishawi. For its part, the Islamic State demanded in a new Internet recording that Rishawi be transferred to an unspecified point on the Turkish border or the pilot, Moaz al Kasasbeh, would be killed.
The new recording, purportedly by Kenji Goto, a freelance Japanese journalist also held by the group, did not offer to swap Kasasbeh for Rishawi. Instead, it reiterated the group’s original offer – to swap Goto for Rishawi.
“I am Kenji Goto. This is a voice message I’ve been told to send to you,” the new recording said. “If Sajida al Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset 29th of January Mosul time, the Jordanian pilot Moaz al Kasasbeh will be killed immediately.”
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It was unknown whether Jordan and the Islamic State were in contact with one another beyond their public statements. On Wednesday, Jordan said it had asked tribesmen with Islamic State contacts to try to mediate an exchange for Kasasbeh, an offer the Islamic State so far has not made publicly.
On Thursday, multiple top Jordanian officials took to state television to reiterate the country’s willingness to exchange Rishawi, an Iraqi woman in her 40s convicted and sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 bombings of three luxury hotels in Amman. But Goto’s reiteration that the exchange would be for him suggested that Jordan and the Islamic State were talking past one another on what deal was under consideration.
The proposal to swap Goto for Rishawi was first raised in an audio recording posted on Saturday, in which Goto said the Islamic State had killed another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and was dropping its request for a $200 million ransom. Instead, the Islamic State offered to trade Goto for Rishawi. “It is simple. You give them Sajida and I will be released,” the recording said. The recording made no mention of Kasasbeh.
Then on Tuesday, in another recording, Goto reiterated the demand and suggested the Jordanian government was delaying action. “It is me for her. What seems to be so difficult to understand?” he said. “Any more delays by the Jordanian government will mean they will be responsible for the death of their pilot, which will then be followed by mine.”
Jordan on Wednesday raised the idea of swapping Rishawi for Kasasbeh, in a statement from the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. The audio from Goto on Thursday, however, made no mention of such an exchange, saying only that Kasasbeh would be killed if Rishawi were not released.
Kasasbeh was captured in December when his plane crashed during a bombing mission over Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
The mention in Goto’s statement of the Turkish border suggested the Islamic State hopes to take custody of Rishawi at one of the Syrian border crossings it controls. Jordan has no border with Turkey, and an exchange there would require Jordan to first transfer Rishawi to Turkey. Raqqa is a relatively short drive from Turkey.
Meanwhile, Jordan took steps to quiet the commentary that has put pressure on the government to strike a deal for Kasasbeh’s release. One member of Kasasbeh’s family, reached by phone, said the government had asked the family to refrain from making public statements after Kasasbeh’s father earlier in the week had called Rishawi’s continued imprisonment a “burden” on Jordan.