Jordan arrests website pair over hostage swap rumors


Two managers of a Jordanian website have been arrested for spreading rumors that an Iraqi jihadi had been freed in exchange for a Japanese hostage, a judicial source said Thursday.

The owner of the Saraya News site, Hashim al-Khalidi, and editor-in-chief Seif Obeidat could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The Islamic State group is demanding the release of Iraqi would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row in Jordan, the prevent the execution of Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh and win the release of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.

The kingdom is under heavy pressure at home and from ally Japan to save al-Kaseasbeh and Goto.

On Wednesday, Saraya News reported that al-Rishawi had been freed and had arrived in Iraq to be handed over to the extremists in exchange for Goto, which the authorities quickly denied.

“By order of the prosecutor general of the State Security Court, Hashim al-Khalidi and Seif Obeidat were arrested after the publication of rumors of the release of an Iraqi suicide bomber as part of a deal with IS,” the source said.

They are accused of “having used means of communication to propagate the ideas of a terrorist organization and actions that could encourage violence against Jordanians and acts of revenge,” the source added.

Jordan, which has been accused by rights groups of restricting freedom of speech and of the press, has ordered the closure of the site.

In a new audio recording released Thursday, a voice identifying itself as Goto says his captors will kill al-Kaseasbeh if the bomber is not handed over by sunset.

Amman has offered to free the Iraqi woman, who was convicted for her part in triple-hotel bombings in the Jordanian capital in 2005 that killed 60 people, if the group releases the pilot unharmed.

The pilot was captured on Dec. 24 after his F-16 jet crashed while on a mission against the jihadis over northern Syria.

Full coverage of the Islamic State hostage crisis