Government weighs release of Iraqi woman on death row in exchange for pilot as Japan worries about fate of its citizen.
The fate of a Jordanian pilot and a Japanese journalist remained unclear as a deadline passed for Jordan to release an Iraqi would-be suicide bomber to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL).
Japanese officials had no new progress to report on Friday after a late night that ended with the Jordanian government saying it would only release an al-Qaeda prisoner from death row if it got proof the airman was alive.
“There is nothing I can tell you,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday. He reiterated Japan’s “strong trust” in the Jordanians to help save the Japanese hostage, freelance journalist Kenji Goto.
Suga said the government had been in close contact with Goto’s wife, Rinko Jogo, who released a statement pleading for her husband’s life.
I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left.
“I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left,” Jogo said in a statement released through a London-based organisation for freelance journalists.
“My husband and I have two very young daughters. Our baby girl was only three weeks old when Kenji left. 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.”
An audio message purportedly from Goto said Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh would be killed unless Jordan freed Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people in Amman.
Earlier, a spokesperson for Jordan’s government demanded proof of life for their pilot before moving ahead with any possible swap to bring about his release.
“We want to see a proof of life of the Jordanian pilot and then we can talk about the exchange,” Mohammed al-Momani said.
It was not clear from the audio message said to be from Goto, and reported by monitoring group SITE Intelligence, if either Goto or Kasasbeh would be freed.
Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister, told parliament: “We are aware of the new message … [and] are verifying [its authenticity].”
Japan plays no military part in the fight against ISIL.
ISIL are standing to make possibly more capital in the propaganda stakes out of all of this, realising now that hostages it has have more value alive than dead.
Amman had offered to free the Iraqi woman if ISIL released their airman.
“Jordan is ready to release the prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot is freed unharmed,” state television quoted a government spokesman as saying on Wednesday.
“From the start, the position of Jordan was to ensure the safety of our son, the pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh,” it added. The government spokesman made no mention of Japanese hostage Goto.
‘Save my son’
The atmosphere was tense in Jordan, where the country’s involvement in the US-led air raids against ISIL positions is contentious.
“It has caused real difficulties in this country because what was a supportive atmosphere towards the allies against ISIL is now turning against the government,” Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Amman, said.
“ISIL are standing to make possibly more capital in the propaganda stakes out of all of this, realising now that hostages it has have more value alive than dead.”
The hostage situation began last week after ISIL released a video showing Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa kneeling in orange jumpsuits beside a masked man who threatened to kill them in 72 hours unless Japan paid a $200 million ransom. That demand has since apparently shifted to one for the release of al-Rishawi.
The group has reportedly killed Yukawa, although that has not been confirmed.