As an apparent Wednesday evening deadline approached, in which extremists again threatened Kenji Goto with death, the freelance journalist’s friends, relatives and many others nationwide listened for word of whether Amman would free Sajida al-Rishawi, the Iraqi woman the extremists named as the price for his freedom.
As much as the Jordanian people hope Goto will be released, freeing the failed suicide bomber in any deal would be a difficult proposition for Amman unless the Islamic State group also frees a Jordanian pilot it is holding.
Broadly speaking, Jordanians are as disgusted as Japanese at the brutality of the Islamic State group. But at least one Jordanian resident in Tokyo said his native country would not accept swapping Goto for al-Rishawi alone.
“Of course, everybody (in Jordan) is worried about Goto-san, too,” the Tokyo resident told The Japan Times. The man asked not to be named, although he said he works for a global broadcaster in Tokyo.
“Goto-san hasn’t done anything bad. Why kill him?” the man asked. He said Islamic State militants are “not Muslims. They are cultists. They kill thousands of Muslims, and I don’t understand why no one can stop them.”
He said that many non-Jordanian Muslims, including Syrians, know Goto as “a good man who reports on poor children to Japan,” and that he had risked his life by heading to a conflict zone to help his friend, Haruna Yukawa. Islamic State extremists are believed to have executed Yukawa last week.
Despite their sympathy for Goto, Jordanians would be reluctant to give up al-Rishawi for him alone. The failed terrorist is potentially a strong bargaining chip, given that the militants are holding a member of the country’s military.
“For Jordanians, the pilot gets a very high priority,” he said, referring to Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, whose fighter jet crashed in Syria in December. “If Jordan is to release al-Rishawi, Islamic State has to release the pilot.”
In an online video, the group demanded the release of al-Rishawi in exchange for the lives of the pilot and Goto.
Masanori Naito, a professor of Islamic studies at Doshisha University, agrees that a swap involving Goto alone would be difficult for Amman. “The Jordanian public would become extremely angry if (al-Rishawi) were to be released,” Naito said.
The attack in which she participated is sometimes referred to as “Jordan’s 9/11.” Four bombers targeted revelers and others at upscale hotels in Amman. Around 60 people died, but al-Rishawi survived after she said her explosives failed.
The anger would be amplified if Amman played its best hand — releasing al-Rishawi — for Tokyo’s benefit alone.
“That would deal a serious blow to the Jordanian government. It is a very difficult situation,” Naito said.
Oraib Rentawi, the director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, agreed that Tokyo could not expect Amman to release al-Rishawi while the airman remains captive. But he said it is possible that the parties could extend their demands to include both captives together. There is now “an opportunity for Jordan to expand negotiations with the Islamic State to reach a package deal to release both the Japanese hostage and the Jordanian pilot,” he said.
One member of Jordan’s parliament was quoted as saying the country was in indirect talks with the militants to secure the hostages’ release.
Bassam Al-Manasseer, chair of the foreign affairs committee, told Bloomberg the talks are taking place through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding neither Jordan nor Japan will negotiate directly with the Islamic State group and that Amman would not free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto alone. This was the strongest suggestion yet that authorities in Jordan and Japan may be open to a prisoner exchange, in opposition to the policy of the kingdom’s main ally, the U.S., which opposes negotiating with militants.
Information from AP, AFP-JIJI added