Fate of hostages unclear as swap founders

by and

Staff Writers

The fate of two hostages, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and Jordanian air force pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, remained unclear on Friday as a proposed swap between Jordan and the Islamic State group foundered on the suspicion that one of the captives might not in fact be alive.

On Thursday night, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan would not proceed with the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a failed suicide bomber jailed in Jordan, because the extremists had not provided proof that al-Kaseasbeh remains alive.

“We need a proof of life, so we cannot proceed with what we have announced yesterday regarding the exchange between Sajida and the Jordanian pilot,” al-Momani told reporters late Thursday night.

Amman has spoken mostly about the need to free al-Kaseasbeh, but has indicated that it has demanded the simultaneous release of Goto, too.

No new developments had been reported as of Friday evening, even though more than a day had passed since the extremists’ latest deadline.

Their response to the busted deadline was unknown, but they have in the past threatened to kill both Goto and the pilot.

“We have nothing particularly to report” to media outlets about developments of the hostage crisis, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday morning.

Asked if negotiations between Jordan and the Islamic State group had broken down, a high-ranking Japanese official in Tokyo said: “We don’t know yet. (The demands) of the group frequently change.”

On Jan. 20, the group first posted an Internet video of Goto and fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa, demanding that Japan pay $200 million in ransom.

Late Saturday night, the group posted an image of Goto holding a photo of what appeared to be the beheaded body of Yukawa. In the accompanying audio recording, the group dropped its ransom demand and instead called for a swap of Goto for al-Rishawi. In another video, posted Tuesday, the group threatened to kill both within 24 hours unless al-Rishawi is released.

On Thursday morning, the group declared a one-day deadline of sunset in Mosul, Iraq, which fell at 5:30 p.m. locally and 11:30 p.m. in Japan. This was the moment at which it would execute the pilot and Goto if al-Rishawi was not presented for a swap, it said.

Both Jordan and the jihad group remained silent as of Friday evening.

During a morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on whether Japan agreed with Jordan’s policy of withholding al-Rishawi pending evidence that the pilot is alive.

“That’s Jordan’s way of thinking. We, the Japanese government, should not make any comment on that,” Suga said, apparently trying to avoid putting pressure on Amman, at least in public.

Experts say the main aim of the Islamic extremists probably has shifted to damaging the Jordanian government rather than Japan, as Amman is a close ally of the U.S. and is part of the U.S.-led coalition staging air strikes against the Islamic State group.

“Jordan’s domestic politics are unstable,” said lawmaker Motohiro Ono, a noted Middle East expert from the Democratic Party of Japan.

He added, the nation’s economy is in trouble. It hosts large numbers of refugees from Syria, who now comprise about 10 percent of the country’s population, he said. This has had an impact on the jobs market, as native Jordanians face increased competition for work.

Amman is under great public pressure not to make any false steps in the hostage crisis, Ono said. At the same time, it cannot ignore Tokyo’s demands, given that Japan has extended considerable economic assistance, he added.

Jordan is “in a dilemma,” Ono said.

Fumikazu Nishitani, a freelance journalist familiar with Middle East, said the Islamic State is probably trying to demonstrate its power and shore up weakening morale.

“There seems to be some internal strife within the Islamic State. They need to tighten morale,” Nishitani said.

“By causing a big disturbance and drawing global media attention, they want to send out a message that it is the Islamic State, not al-Qaida, that is fighting against the United States now. In that sense, their aim has already been met to some extent,” Nishitani said.

Meanwhile on Thursday the United States appeared to stop calling publicly on Jordan and Japan not to meet the terrorists’ demands.

Earlier, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki had said the U.S. opposed any prisoner swap deal with the Islamic State group. This position appeared to shift in her latest briefing.

“This is a very sensitive situation. These are ongoing efforts. There are lives at stake here,” said Psaki during a daily press briefing Thursday in Washington.

“So we’re just not going to speculate or speak to our views while this is ongoing,” she said.

Ono, also a visiting research fellow at the Middle East Institute of Japan, said the United States would likely help the Jordanian government if the government in Amman was confronted with the prospect of being overthrown.

Full coverage of the Islamic State hostage crisis

  • AdamNeira

    Prayers for Kenji Goto and Mu’ath Safi al-Kaseasbeh.

    The coming minutes and hours are crucial. Things really are spinning on a dime. The lines of communication must be kept open. 24/7 monitoring and oversight of the process by a properly funded team is required. People must keep their eye on the ball.

    The prisoner swap proposal of IS should take place ASAP. Kenji Goto and al-Kaseasbeh for Sajida Mubarak Atrousal-Rishawi. The devil really is in the detail. i.e. The correct sequence of trust building moves by all parties must be made in the right order. Like the G-d Algorithm with a Rubik’s Cube. e.g. Proof of life evidence. Rishawi’s transport to Ankara/Gazianep then Akçakale and Tal Abyad. Trust is in short supply in Syria. In all light there is darkness however.

    مَّا قَضَى اللَّهُ الْخَلْقَ كَتَبَ فِي كِتَابِهِ فَهُوَ عِنْدَهُ فَوْقَ الْعَرْشِ إِنَّ رَحْمَتِي غَلَبَتْ غَضَبِي

    When Allah decreed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His
    Throne: My mercy prevails over My wrath.

    – Sahih Bukhari 3022

    • 80CharlieGriffith


      • AdamNeira

        There is not enough time and space here in the comments section of the Japan Times to explain the jurisprudence behind my judgment of this complex case. The cost/benefit analysis of the pros and cons of this proposed prisoner swap reveals many things, most of which obviously escape you.

        Democracy has its pitfalls. (What’s that saying about opinions…) Democracy ensures that everyone is equal, so no one can give
        orders or criticize. Thus a decent command structure breaks down. Sometimes executive decisions need to be made from a higher perspective that may not always be “popular”.

        P.S. If you didn’t know, the concept of monarchy as expressed in the Japanese idea of an Emperor and the Muslim idea of a Caliph are not that dissimilar.

      • Gordon Graham

        The monarchy as you posit is an anachronism.

  • 80CharlieGriffith

    One Japanese news reporter in search of a “story” in a dangerous area he most certainly was aware of is absolutely no sensible “exchange” for this known muslima terrorist who should remain under arrest, incommunicado, in a cell in Jordan for the rest of her life. Her release would be only a propaganda coup for Worldwide Muslim terrorism.
    In general, the Japanese should keep a very low profile abroad after their own well remembered, widespread atrocities during the period 1931-1945.

    • Tap Hue

      You are against humans who are neither British nor French. On that count you appear to side against Sikhs in America with no reasonable legal explanation, but then I quote another of your comments: “Iranians can’t be trusted by non-Muslims, or by Muslims of a different sect.” You go on denouncing those who kill Shi’as, but then your game is that of the “terrorists” who you denounce. With America at the helm, and should greater minds not prevail, we can expect a lot more distrust and misery in the news.

      • 80CharlieGriffith

        Re: “you appear to side against Sikhs in America”

        That’s absolute nonsense. Methinks you’re trolling, I’m having none of it.

  • zer0_0zor0

    At any rate, if there is going to be an exchange, can anyone recall a situation where such an astounding degree of incompetence has been exhibited all around?

    • Gordon Graham

      Not submitting to the demands of murderous thugs is incompetent?

      • zer0_0zor0

        No, that is not what I meant.
        If there is a hostage exchange being arranged, then why can’t they get it right?

      • Gordon Graham

        You’re assuming there’s a hostage exchange being arranged…That the Jordanian and Japanese government are doing as commanded by murdering marauders. Perhaps you would take such people for their word and submit to their will immediately, thus making your citizens throughout the world more vulnerable as easy targets of a weak submissive government. Incompetence would be to encourage more such kidnappings and demands.

      • zer0_0zor0

        I’m not going to engage the more provocative insinuations in your response.

        Suffice it to say that hostage exchanges are not uncommon in war.

      • Gordon Graham

        It’s clear Japan has already decided on the fate of the hostages. The silence is not incompetence, it’s an answer. I suggest people who dare to freelance in hell listen…

    • Eagle

      Hopefully not deliberately or by giving in to pressure following an order.

  • Eagle

    What is Abe worrying for at first place? The life of the hostages (I suspect Yukawa is alive), his own career, or the consequences of his fumbling and total incompetence in a situation where he has lost his ability of making sober judgement including the economic condition and the political status of himself and his own country, Japan?

    • Gordon Graham

      blah blah blah blah blah Abe

  • Eagle

    What a peculiar strange post from AdamNeira.

    Is this a real person or an A.I. posting huge amount messages. Recently I can read more and more online news written by A.I and officially signed “Written by Automated Insights”. Easy to do with our modern technologies. I do not know what AdamNeira’s posts are, but it is written in a style that sounds and looks the same. Same refers to some other discussion boards. There is a growing number of discussion boards that wouldn’t approve readers’ posts without solving the CAPTCHA. Good idea.