Yesterday, Jordan reportedly agreed to swap a female al-Qaeda terrorist for captive Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kasaesbeh, held hostage by ISIS since his fighter jet went down near the city of Raqqa in December. The fate of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto also hung in the balance, as Goto has been forced to read several messages from the Islamic State to the Japanese and Jordanian governments.
The first message appeared to offer Goto’s release in addition to Kasaesbeh’s, if the Jordanians released failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi. The latest message is a much shorter audio recording in which Goto identifies himself and says, “This is a voice message I’ve been told to send to you. 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 Muath al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately.”
Jordan, however, has signaled its reluctance to proceed with the prisoner swap, because as Reuters reports, the terrorists have not responded to Jordanian demands for proof that Kasaesbeh is in good health:
Government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan was ready to release al-Rishawi if Kasaesbeh was spared, but made clear that she was still being held until the pilot was freed.
“It’s not true she has been released. Her release is tied to freeing our pilot,” Momani told Reuters. He made no mention of Goto.
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on his official Twitter account that a Jordanian request for proof that Kasaesbeh was safe and well had gone unanswered.
The Jordanian comments have raised concerns in Japan that Goto might no longer be part of any deal between Amman and Islamic State. But CNN quoted Judeh as saying that “of course” the Japanese hostage’s release would be part of any exchange.
However, Momani went on to say that Jordan’s top priority was the release of Kasaesbeh, who Reuters observes “hails from an important Jordanian tribe that forms the backbone of support for the Hashemite monarchy.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not directly comment on Jordan’s decision to put the prisoner swap on hold, although representatives of his administration have said they believe the audio recordings of Kenji Goto are authentic. The deadline originally set by ISIS for Goto’s execution passed on Wednesday night. Sunset in Mosul is due at about 10:00 AM Eastern time; AFP reports that journalists have gathered at the Turkish border post in Akcakale, across from the ISIS-controlled town of Tel Abyad in Syria, to await the possible prisoner swap.