While Japanese officials were working tirelessly to secure the release of Kenji Goto, a journalist held hostage by Islamic State militants after the time set for his ransom had passed, the ISIS militants changed tone and appeared to use Goto to deliver a message for Jordan, asking for the release of a prisoner in Jordan in exchange for the release of a Jordanian pilot hostage.
Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, 42, were held hostage by ISIS militants who demanded for $200 million to be paid for their ransom within 72 hours or they would be killed. The ransom was not paid within the stipulated time and nothing was heard about Yukawa again – with ISIS hinting that he had been killed.
However, instead of pressing home their demands for the life of Goto, the latter was shown in a video holding what appeared to be the photo of the dead body of Yukawa; and saying in the video that ISIS demands for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a terrorist sentenced to death in Jordan for setting off bombs at an Amman hotel which killed 60 people in 2005.
ISIS says through the message read out in English by Goto that Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh who fell into ISIS hands after his plane crashed in Syria would be executed immediately if al-Rishawi is not released by Jordanian authorities.
In the message demanding for prisoner swap, the voice read: “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-Kaseasbeh will be killed immediately,” the voice said, according to the terror-monitoring group SITE Intelligence.
The video contains Arabic text and the audio message, which the voice says, “I’ve been told to send to you.”
“We are trying to confirm (the message), but we think there is a high probability that this is Mr. Goto’s voice,” said Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.
Although acceding to the prisoner swap would be against Jordan’s hard-line approach of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, Jordanian King Abdullah II is facing strong pressure to bring back the pilot home.
“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”