Jordan has reportedly agreed to release a female jihadi named Sajida al-Rishawi, imprisoned since 2006 under a death sentence for her role in a 2005 hotel bombing in Amman that killed 60 people, in exchange for captive pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, held by ISIS since his F-16 fighter went down near the Islamic State’s capital city of Raqqa last December.
This marks a significant change in both ISIS tactics and Jordanian government policy, as the terror “state” normally demands cash ransom or political concessions in exchange for the lives of hostages, rather than prisoner swaps, while Jordan has generally followed the United States’ line against making deals with terrorists. It is also noteworthy that al-Rishawi, a would-be suicide bomber whose explosive vest failed to detonate, was an operative of al-Qaeda alongside her husband, whose efforts at suicide bombing were more grimly successful.
Also hanging in the balance is the life of surviving Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, whose friend Haruna Yukawa was apparently murdered by the Islamic State after Japan refused to deliver on a $200 million ransom demand. Although recent communiques suggest ISIS has withdrawn that ransom demand, a new video released by the terror state includes Goto delivering what he says is his “last message,” in which he is made to urge Jordan to make the prisoner exchange.
“I only have 24 hours left to live, and the pilot has even less,” Goto said. “Please don’t leave us to die.” The video includes a still photo of Goto in an orange jumpsuit, holding up what is believed to be a photo of the captive Jordanian pilot, while an audio recording of his voice is heard.
In addition to encouraging Jordan to give up al-Rishawi (who he is made to refer to as the Islamic State’s “sister Sajida”), Goto is forced to blame Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the death of Haruna Yukawa because he didn’t take ISIS threats seriously, and makes a plea to his wife Rinko: “I love you and I miss my two daughters. Please do not let Abe do the same for my case. Don’t give up… Rinko, these could be my last hours in this world, and I may be a dead man speaking. Don’t let these be my last words you ever hear. Don’t let Abe also kill me.”
Prime Minister Abe, whose government believes the audio recording is probably genuine – although the photo of Goto holding up a picture of the Jordanian pilot appears to have been edited – expressed anger at the Islamic State’s actions. “Considering the unbearable pain and sorrow that his family must be feeling, I am speechless,” Abe said in a televised statement, transcribed by the UK Daily Mail. “Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible. It causes me nothing but strong indignation. I condemn it strongly and resolutely.”
The UK Guardian adds Abe calling the hostage video “despicable” (possibly an alternative translation of the same remarks) and saying Japan “remains unchanged in our stance of seeking help from the Jordanian government in securing the early release of Mr. Goto.”
The Goto recording was one of several videos purportedly released by ISIS in rapid succession early this week. Another showed the apparent beheading of a captive Kurdish fighter, along with a diatribe from one of his masked terrorist executioners, as translated by MEMRI via Fox News: “Know, oh Obama, that we will reach America. Know also that we will cut off your head in the White House, and transform America into a Muslim Province… And this is my message to France and to its sister, Belgium: We advise you that we will come to you with car bombs and explosive charges, and will cut off your heads.”
The threat against Belgium was most likely prompted by the ongoing crackdown against terrorist suspects in that country, most recently resulting in the arrest of three men linked to a terror threat and the seizure of their weapons stash. A previous raid in Belgium resulted in seven arrests and two dead suspects.
The Associated Press notes there has been considerable domestic pressure on both the Japanese and Jordanian governments to recover their hostages from ISIS. Goto’s mother made a public appeal to her government for his rescue today, and there have been demonstrations calling for his return outside the Prime Minister’s office. A lively social media campaign has also been waged on Goto’s behalf, although it is noted that many other Japanese are critical of Goto and the slain Yukawa for traveling to Syria and putting themselves in jeopardy.
On Tuesday, the father of captive pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh pleaded with the Jordanian government to “meet the demands” of the Islamic State – in fact, he essentially threatened his government, saying “all people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan.”