Amman - Forty-one days since Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), many Jordanians remain captivated by a hostage crisis that has left them questioning the country's role in the US-led coalition battling ISIL.

The collapse of a proposed prisoner-swap deal on Thursday, followed by ISIL's beheading of captive Japanese journalist Kenji Goto on Saturday, has left the public stunned, stoking anti-war sentiment and raising questions over Amman's handling of the situation.  

"Our government should make serious negotiations to release our son and ensure his safety," Fahad Kassasbeh, the pilot's uncle, told Al Jazeera.

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Last week, ISIL released a video of Goto, saying he had "only 24 hours to live" and Kassasbeh had "even less". The group later set a Thursday deadline for Jordan to free Sajida al-Rishawi, who was convicted on terrorism charges, in exchange for Goto's freedom. But since that ultimatum, ISIL has made no mention of Kassasbeh's fate.

Kassasbeh's family disputes the government's claims, saying minutes before the Thursday deadline, Amman had all the proof it needed to go through with the prisoner swap.


Rishawi has been on death row in Jordan since 2006 for her role in the 2005 triple hotel bombings that killed 65 people in the capital Amman. Jordan publicly offered to release Rishawi in exchange for Kassasbeh, but said ISIL failed to provide the required evidence that the pilot was still alive.

Kassasbeh's family disputes the government's claims, saying minutes before the Thursday deadline, Amman had all the proof it needed to go through with the prisoner swap.

"We know our son is still alive," Saeed al-Daleen, a family spokesperson and relative of the pilot, told journalists on Friday. Kassasbeh's father, who has been critical of the Jordanian government's efforts, would not disclose to Al Jazeera the nature of that evidence.

Kassasbeh was last seen in a photograph issued by ISIL on December 30, in which he was wearing the same orange jumpsuit that other hostages have been killed in.

"Everything is possible at this point, as ISIL has left everything vague," Mohammed Shalbi - a leader of the Salafist movement in Jordan, who is better known as Abu Sayyaf - told Al Jazeera.

Divisions among ISIL leaders might have blocked negotiations between ISIL and Jordan, Abu Sayyaf said - but if Kassasbeh is still alive, he added, ISIL "truly lost a golden opportunity" to free Rishawi.

Salafist leaders in Jordan say Rishawi is crucial to ISIL because of her connections to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Her brother, Haji al-Rishawi, is one of the founding members of ISIL, Abu Sayyaf noted.

Analysts say ISIL's ambiguity is deliberate, an attempt to place pressure on a Jordanian public increasingly disillusioned with the US-led coalition. 

"The longer people wait to hear about Maaz, the more they question their country's participation [in] the war on ISIL," Hassan Abu Hanniah, a Jordanian political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

Last week, Kassasbeh's tribe protested outside Jordan's royal court, demanding Rishawi's release and Jordan's withdrawal from the coalition against ISIL. Protesters criticised the country's monarch and political establishment, chanting: "Why are we fighting, Abdullah? Why? Why?"

Kassasbeh is part of the influential Bararsheh tribe from Karak, the backbone of the tribal powers who support the monarchy. Should these tribes turn against the anti-ISIL coalition, Jordan may be forced to step back from it, analysts say.

"They [ISIL] want to use Kassasbeh's hostage [status] until the last minute, to get Jordanians to pressure the government to withdraw from the war," Abu Hanniah said.

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Meanwhile, some Jordanians, although sympathetic to Kassasbeh, believe the pilot was doing his duty.

"Every solider is a potential martyr and his family has to accept that," Razan Fakhoury, a 40-year-old engineer, told Al Jazeera. "It is a national duty for his family to understand the country is increasingly becoming tensed."

The pilot's family has made only brief statements to the media, appealing to ISIL to spare their son.

"I only tell them that he is a Muslim brother of yours and to treat him well," the pilot's father, Safi Yousef al-Kassasbeh, told Al Jazeera. "I surrender my son's fate to God."

At a tribal hall in west Amman, Kassasbeh's family gathers each day, awaiting word of his release. Every day at sundown, they renew their appeal to ISIL.

But for now, along with millions of Jordanians, they will continue to wait and wonder, as Jordan's role in the coalition hangs in the balance. 

Source: Al Jazeera