Middle East

Islamic State hostages: Jordan seeks proof pilot is alive

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Media captionThe fate of the hostages is still unclear as the deadline passes for a prisoner swap, as Frank Gardner reports

The Jordanian government is seeking proof a pilot captured by the Islamic State group is still alive as efforts continue to negotiate a prisoner swap.

Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh's family said sources had assured them he was alive shortly before an apparent new IS deadline for the swap passed.

Jordan is ready to swap an Iraqi al-Qaeda prisoner for its pilot.

However, IS is only offering to free a Japanese hostage in return, while sparing the pilot's life.

Japanese hostage Kenji Goto's wife, Rinko, confirmed to the BBC that IS was offering to free Mr Goto in return for the release of Iraqi al-Qaeda member Sajida al-Rishawi.

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Media captionLt Moaz al-Kasasbeh's father, Safi al-Kasasbeh: "We plead to you for the sake of God and his prophet"

Jordan is part of a US-led coalition which has been carrying out air strikes on IS since last summer when the Syria-based group overran large parts of northern Iraq.

A spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force told the BBC on Thursday that Jordanian forces were still involved in operations against IS forces.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Posters with pictures of Jordanian pilot Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh have appeared in Amman

'Alive and secure'

A video released by IS on Wednesday contained an ultimatum delivered by a person thought to be Mr Goto.

"If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset [14:30 GMT] 29th of January Mosul time, the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh will be killed immediately," the speaker thought to be Mr Goto says.

Analysis: Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

The uncomfortable truth about this whole hostage stand-off is that the jihadists of Islamic State seem to be holding all the cards. They do not actually need the release of the failed Iraqi suicide bomber, Sajida Al-Rishawi. She has been in Jordanian custody for nearly ten years, she has no military or strategic value and they have never asked for her before.

There are far more important jihadist prisoners in Jordan's jails. For IS, Rishawi is symbolic. She was part of a team dispatched by their forerunners, al-Qaeda in Iraq, to blow up hotels in Jordan. But the strategists of Islamic State are after a bigger prize here and that is the undermining of the US-led coalition against them.

Getting Rishawi released translates as a sovereign, Western-aligned country giving in to terrorist demands. That is a propaganda victory for IS and an embarrassment for Jordan's King Abdullah.

Without a deal, IS are thought likely to carry out their threat and murder the captured Jordanian pilot, posting the proof online to appeal to their followers and recruits. Above all, IS have captured the world's attention for days, enhancing their reputation as a violent organisation too dangerous to ignore.

Profile: Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh

Profile: Kenji Goto

Mr Goto's wife Rinko said she had received the same ultimatum by email from the group.

There were no details of where the hostages were being held - or where along the lengthy border a possible release might occur.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Islamic State fighters control much of the Syrian border with Turkey

It was the second such warning issued by IS this week since another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, was reportedly killed by the group after a demand for ransom of $200m (£130m) was not met.

Failed suicide bomber Rishawi is on death row in Jordan in relation to bomb attacks in the capital, Amman, which killed 60 people in 2005.

Lt Kasasbeh was captured on 24 December after his plane crashed in northern Syria. His relatives and other supporters have staged protests in Amman calling for the government to help him.

After the cabinet meeting in Amman, Jordanian Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Momani stressed the government wanted proof the pilot was alive. It was, he said, also working hard to secure the release of Mr Goto.

Lt Kasasbeh's family issued a statement to say it had received assurances from unnamed sources that the pilot was still "alive and secure".

Safi al-Kasasbeh, the pilot's father, urged IS to release his son "in the name of God and his prophet and all the believers".

Mr Goto, 47, is a well-known freelance journalist and documentary film-maker who went to Syria in October, reportedly to try to get Mr Yukawa - a private contractor - released.

In a press statement, Rinko Goto said she had received several emails from IS but the latest appeared to be their "final demand".

Appealing for his release, she asked "the Jordanian and Japanese government to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands".

She described her husband, and father of her two young daughters, as a "good and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who suffer".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Junko Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, pleaded from Japan for diplomats to redouble their efforts

Sajida al-Rishawi

  • Iraqi prisoner under sentence of death in Jordan after being convicted of a role in an al-Qaeda hotel bombing in the capital Amman in 2005
  • Caught wearing a suicide bomb vest (below) which failed to explode during the attack on the Radisson SAS Hotel. Her husband blew himself up during the attack
  • Has family links to Iraq's Anbar province, much of which is controlled by IS and its Sunni Arab allies
  • Said she became a militant to avenge three of her brothers, killed in fighting with US-led forces
  • Execution was postponed when Jordan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2006 but executions resumed in Jordan late last year
Image copyright AP