National

Jordan reportedly offers to swap would-be bomber for captured pilot; no mention of Goto

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Jordanian state-run television reported Wednesday that Amman was ready to release an Iraqi failed suicide bomber on death row if the Islamic State group freed a captured Jordanian pilot, citing a government minister in the Middle East country.

The flash news report, however, did not mention Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who is being held by the armed extremists.

Meanwhile, a video apparently linked to the Islamic State group was released shortly after 11 p.m. on Wednesday. A man featured in the video claimed the pilot, Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, came to kill members of the jihadi group. However, the video did not mention Goto, according to Kyodo News.

The latest reports suggested that last-minute negotiations were still going on between Jordan and the Islamic militants even after the deadline set by the group to kill both Goto and al-Kaseasbeh, whose fighter jet crashed in Syria in December, apparently expired at around 11 p.m.

In a video posted online a day earlier, the Islamic militants again demanded that Amman release Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi would-be suicide bomber now on death row in Jordan.

In Jordan, the release of al-Rishawi, one of four suicide bombers who assaulted three hotels in Amman in 2005, was considered a possible bargaining chip to free the air force al-Kaseasbeh.

But in an apparent bid to divide Japan and Jordan, the Islamic State group demanded a straight swap of al-Rishawi for Goto, in the video posted on Tuesday.

The group did not say whether it would release the al-Kaseasbeh along with Goto if Amman freed al-Rishawi.

Overseas media reports surfaced Wednesday afternoon that Jordan and the Islamic State group had reached, or were nearing an agreement to free Goto in exchange for al-Rishawi.

According to Japanese TV station FNN, an Israeli news agency reported Wednesday that Amman and the militants had agreed to a swap.

Earlier, the Jordan News website had reported that al-Rishawi was transferred from one prison to another in preparation for her handover to Islamic State militants.

But three high-ranking Japanese officials in Tokyo contacted by The Japan Times remained highly skeptical of the reports.

“The situation is not like that at all,” one of them said. The Islamic State group “is not such an easy party to deal with.”

Another of the three officials said that a hostage swap would be conducted in an extremely sensitive manner and with the utmost secrecy until a deal was carried out “to the very end.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Japanese officials condemned the Islamic State threat issued on Tuesday but appeared to have no other options than to request the “cooperation” of the Jordanian government to help resolve the ongoing crisis.

A male voice in the video posted Tuesday said that unless its demand was met within 24 hours, the group would first kill al-Kaseasbeh and then Goto, a Japanese freelance journalist. The video features a still image of Goto holding a photo of what appears to be al-Kaseasbeh, and is accompanied by the voice of a man speaking English who identified himself as Goto.

Using unusually blunt language, a high-ranking Japanese official said Tuesday that “Japan is incompetent” in handling the hostage crisis and suggested that it would be the Jordanian government that decided any hostage swap.

Tokyo can only “ask cooperation of the Jordanian government” in order to save Goto’s life, according to the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

The situation appeared no better on Wednesday morning when Abe convened a special Cabinet meeting on the crisis.

“We the government, facing an extremely tough situation, have asked for cooperation from the Jordanian government. . . . This policy will remain unchanged,” Abe told his ministers during a Wednesday morning meeting. “We feel strong indignation over this extremely vicious act. We resolutely condemn it.”

The man speaking in the Islamic State video blames the Jordanian government for resisting the group’s demand to free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto.

“I’ve been told this is my last message, and I’ve also been told that the barrier (to) extracting my freedom is now just the Jordanian government delaying the handover of Sajida,” the man says in the video, which was titled “The second public message of ‘Kenji Goto Jogo’ to his family and the government of Japan.”

“Tell the Japanese government to put all their political pressure on Jordan. Time is now running very short. It is me for her,” the man says.

“What seems to be so difficult to understand? She has been a prisoner for a decade, and I’ve only been a prisoner for a few months. Her for me. A straight exchange.”

“Any more delays by the Jordanian government will mean they’re responsible for the death of their pilot, which will then be followed by mine. I only have 24 hours left to live, and the pilot has even less. Please don’t leave us to die,” the voice says.

“Anymore delaying tactics will simply see both of us getting killed. The ball is now in the Jordanians’ court.”