Militants’ Deadline Expires on Prisoner Swap With Jordan

SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Jordan demanded proof from Islamic State that a captured Jordanian air-force pilot was still alive, as the militant group’s sundown deadline expired for a swap involving a woman arrested for her role in a 2005 bombing in Amman.

The country has been discussing releasing Sajida al-Rishawi to Islamic State in exchange for First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh, who was captured in December after his plane crashed in northeastern Syria.

“We demanded proofs that the pilot is still alive and until now we have not received any,” Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammad Momani said. “We reaffirm our demand.”

Jordan’s attempts to free Lt. Kasasbeh come at the same time as Japan seeks the release of journalist Kenji Goto, who was taken hostage by Islamic State in December.

The militant group originally appeared to envisage exchanging Mr. Goto for Ms. al-Rishawi, who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2006 for her role in a 2005 bombing in Amman in which her explosives-laden belt failed to detonate.

Japan on Thursday asked for renewed cooperation from Jordan and Turkey in resolving the situation. There was no word of any further developments as Islamic State’s deadline for a deal passed.

“The game is over—Jordan has exhausted all its cards and the sides have not reached an agreement,” said Hassan Abu Hanieh, an Amman-based expert on Islamist groups.

“The government told us the situation is not easy,” said Abdullah Kasasbeh, a cousin of the downed pilot. “We are holding our breath.”

Publicly aired negotiations between Islamic State and U.S. ally Jordan, punctuated by ultimatums and sudden changes of demands, have presented an unusual spectacle after months in which intense airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition have targeted the radical group.

The latest ultimatum came in a video distributed Wednesday on Twitter accounts linked to Islamic State. A voice attributed to Mr. Goto said Jordan must present Ms. al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday local time, nearly midnight in Tokyo. Otherwise, said the voice, Islamic State would kill the Jordanian captive pilot.

Japan said it was seeking help from Jordan, Turkey and other nations in the region. “We must strengthen our intelligence gathering and analysis, while gaining cooperation from related countries,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a meeting with ministers.

The biggest uncertainty was what kind of swap each side was offering. It wasn’t clear whether common ground could be reached.

On Wednesday, Jordan said it would be willing to release Ms. al-Rishawi in exchange for the pilot but didn’t mention Mr. Goto. “Jordan’s position from the beginning was to safeguard the life of our son,” said Jordanian minister Mohammad Momani, in a statement released by Petra News Agency.

Islamic State, for its part, implied in the video that it envisioned releasing Mr. Goto, but not necessarily the pilot, in a swap. The voice attributed to Mr. Goto said: “If Sajida al-Rishawi isn’t ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset, 29th of January, Mosul time,” then the pilot “will be killed immediately.”

The logistics of any swap could be messy. By demanding an exchange at the Turkish border—presumably across from an Islamic State-controlled part of Syria—the video inserted Turkey as another player in the sensitive negotiations.

The negotiations between Jordan and Islamic State worry some governments and experts on terrorist groups, who say it risks legitimatizing the extremist group and encourage further kidnapping.

“It is a great way to free up some of the bigger names in prison, and we could see more demands like this,” said Max Abrahms, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and an expert on militant groups.

The Japanese government has repeatedly said it won’t give in to terrorist threats, but has been careful not to rule out prisoner exchanges or ransom payments. In its first video, Islamic State demanded $200 million for the lives of Mr. Goto and another Japanese captive, Haruna Yukawa. It later released a photograph of what appeared to be Mr. Yukawa’s corpse and said it didn’t want money anymore.

Although other countries have negotiated with Islamic State, those deals have been struck quietly.

The U.S. and U.K. have urged their allies not to pay ransoms to Islamic State and other militant groups. But Spain and France are believed to have made payoffs of up to millions of dollars each for the release last year of citizens held by Islamic State, according to the militants and some Western diplomats. The governments publicly denied doing so.

Last year, Islamic State demanded the handover of Aafia Siddiqui, a graduate of Brandeis University who was convicted in 2010 on charges of attempting to kill a U.S. Army captain in Afghanistan and sentenced to a minimum 30 years in prison.

In exchange, they offered to free James Foley, an American journalist. The deal was never completed, and Mr. Foley was later beheaded.

The Obama administration has made clear its preference that allies not negotiate with or pay ransom to the group. But administration officials refrained from offering advice to other countries, instead stating the U.S. policy: “We don’t pay ransom; we don’t give concessions to terrorist organizations,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

On Wednesday, some Jordanians, including the father of the captive pilot, urged their government to withdraw from its partnership with Washington in fighting Islamic State.

“This isn’t our war,” said the father, Safi al-Kasasbeh.

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