ISIS sets deadline for hostage swap at sunset

An unverified message said the Jordanian pilot held by ISIS would be killed if Sajida al-Rishawi was not released by sunset

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The ISIS militant group has released a purported video showing a captive Japanese journalist saying that the group would execute a Jordanian air force pilot unless an Iraqi female prisoner in Jordan was released by sunset on Thursday.

The message appeared to postpone a previous deadline set on Tuesday in which the journalist, Kenji Goto, said he would be killed within 24 hours if the Iraqi was not freed.

Roughly an hour before the new deadline was due to pass, government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan was still holding Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people in Amman.

“We want proof ... that the pilot is alive so that we can proceed with what we said yesterday - exchanging the prisoner with our pilot,” Momani told Reuters.

The pilot, Muath al-Kasaesbeh, was captured after his jet crashed in northeastern Syria in December during a bombing mission against Islamic State, which has seized large tracts of Syria and Iraq.

“...We have not received any evidence that Kasaesbeh is alive. This is what we asked and have not received any proof,” Momani said.
He said separately that Jordan was coordinating with Japanese authorities in an effort to secure the release of Goto, a veteran war reporter also being held by the radical Islamists.

In the latest audio recording purportedly of Goto, he said that Kasaesbeh would be killed “immediately” if al-Rishawi was not at the Turkish border by sunset on Thursday, Iraq time, ready to be exchanged for the Japanese hostage.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo was analyzing the authenticity of the video.

“We are aware of the new message,” Abe said during a parliamentary session. “Now, we are verifying (its authenticity), but we will do our best to secure the release of the Japanese national as soon as possible,” he added.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that chances were high it was Goto's voice in the recording.

“I am Kenji Goto. 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 (Iraq) time, the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately,” the voice in the recording says.

The audio tape message implied that the Jordanian pilot would not be part of the exchange deal, indicating any swap would be between Goto - a veteran war reporter - and al-Rishawi.

Any swap that left out the pilot would not go down well with the public in Jordan, where officials have insisted he is their priority.

On Tuesday, a video was released purporting to show the Japanese national saying he had 24 hours to live unless Jordan released al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people in the capital Amman.

In the first of three videos purportedly of Goto, released last week, a black-clad masked figure with a knife said Goto and Yukawa would be killed within 72 hours if Japan did not pay ISIS $200 million.

A video on Saturday appeared to show Goto with a picture of a decapitated Yukawa, saying his captors' demands had switched to the release of al-Rishawi.

Tuesday's video featured an audio track over a still picture that appeared to show Goto holding a picture of a now bearded Kasaesbeh.

Jordan arrests two over hostage swap

Later in the day, two managers of a Jordanian news website have been arrested by authorities for spreading rumors that al-Rsihawi has been freed in exchange for the Japanese hostage.

A judicial source told Agence France-Presse that 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.

On Wednesday Saraya News reported that Rishawi had been freed and had arrived in Iraq to be handed over to ISIS 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 rumours of the release of an Iraqi suicide bomber as part of a deal with ISIS,” 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.

[With Reuters]