ISIL sends message for prisoner swap at Turkish border
AMMAN/TOKYO - Reuters
People walk past television screens displaying a news program, about an ISIL video showing Japanese captive Kenji Goto holding what appears to be a photo of Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh, on a street in Tokyo January 28, 2015.An audio message purportedly from a Japanese journalist being held by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants said a Jordanian air force pilot also captured by the group would be killed unless an Iraqi female prisoner in Jordan was released on the Turkish border by sunset on Jan. 29.
The message appeared to postpone a previous deadline set on Jan. 27 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 latest audio recording, which could not be verified by Reuters, was posted on YouTube early on Jan. 29. 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 time, the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately,” the voice in the recording says.
It was not immediately clear at which spot along Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq the prisoner exchange could take place. It was not immediately clear at which spot along Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq the prisoner exchange could take place. Japanese journalists flooded the Akçakale border gate in Turkey's Şanlıurfa province across the Syrian town of Tel Abyad after the report.
Jordan said on Jan. 28 it had received no assurance that al-Kasaesbeh was safe and it would go ahead with a proposed prisoner swap only if he was freed.
The audio tape message implied 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 a priority.
There was no immediate comment from Jordanian government officials, but a security official said authorities were trying to verify the authenticity of the recording and coordinating with their Japanese counterparts.
On Jan. 27, 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.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said earlier Jordan was ready to release al-Rishawi if al-Kasaesbeh was spared, but made it clear she would be held until the pilot was freed.
Al-Kasaesbeh was captured after his jet crashed in northeastern Syria in December during a bombing mission against ISIL, which has captured large tracts of Syria and Iraq. He is from an important Jordanian tribe that forms the backbone of support for the Hashemite monarchy.
Test for Abe
The hostage crisis is the biggest diplomatic test for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he took office in 2012, pledging to bolster Japan’s defence and play a larger role in global security.
The Jordanian comments have raised concerns in Japan that Goto may no longer be part of any deal between Amman and ISIL. But CNN quoted Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh as saying “of course” the Japanese hostage’s release would be part of any exchange.
“Kenji has done nothing wrong,” Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told reporters. “I hope he comes home safely, that’s my only feeling as a mother.”
Speaking after a special cabinet ministers’ meeting as well as in parliament on Thursday, Abe said the government was making every effort to ensure Goto’s early release and repeated Japan was seeking cooperation from Jordan.
He reiterated Japan would not give in to terrorism and Tokyo would continue cooperating with the international community. He added Japan would make every effort to protect its citizens from terrorism at home and abroad.
“If we are too afraid of terrorism and give in to it, this will give rise to fresh terrorism against Japanese people and it will become a world in which the will to carry out despicable violence has its own way,” Abe told a lower house budget committee. “Such a thing is totally impermissible.”
The hostage crisis erupted after Abe, while on a tour of the Middle East, announced $200 million in non-military aid for countries contending with ISIL, but his government has rejected any suggestion it acted rashly and stressed the assistance was humanitarian.
Abe added peace and stability in the Middle East were important for Japan’s energy strategy. Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on the Middle East for oil imports.
Goto went to Syria in late October. According to friends and business associates, he was attempting to secure the release of Haruna Yukawa, his friend and a fellow Japanese citizen who was captured by ISIL in August.
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 ISIL $200 million.
A video on Jan. 24 appeared to show Goto with a picture of a decapitated Yukawa, saying his captors’ demands had switched to the release of al-Rishawi.
The Jan. 27 video featured an audio track over a still picture that appeared to show Goto holding a picture of a now bearded al-Kasaesbeh.