A new message purportedly from Islamic State group militants holding a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian air force pilot sets yet another deadline to meet their demands. Here’s a look at the latest twists and turns in this crisis.
An audio recording posted online threatened to kill the Jordanian pilot unless Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly 2005 hotel bombings in Jordan, is presented at the Turkish border by sunset on Thursday.
The Japanese government is examining the audio, and a spokesman said “we think there is high probability that this is the voice of (captured journalist Kenji) Goto.”
The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording, which was distributed on Twitter by Islamic State-affiliated accounts.
The cases of Goto, al-Rishawi and the air force pilot have become intertwined over the past week.
Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State group, which has taken control of parts of Syria and Iraq.
The militant group is believed to be holding both Goto and the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who was captured after his plane crashed in December.
Exactly which of the two — or if both — might be exchanged for al-Rishawi remains unclear. Both governments have said they are working toward the release of the two men, but they have been mum on any details.
The crisis began on Jan. 20 with the posting of a video in which the Islamic State group threatened to kill Goto and another Japanese hostage unless Tokyo paid a $200 million ransom within 72 hours. The other hostage, Haruna Yukawa, has reportedly been killed.
On Saturday, a day after that deadline had passed, an online message purportedly issued on behalf of the Islamic State group changed the demand to the release of al-Rishawi instead of the ransom.
A subsequent purported message on Tuesday said that both Goto and al-Kaseasbeh would be killed if Jordan did not free al-Rishawi within 24 hours.
The latest message changes the deadline to sunset Thursday, and says only that the pilot will be killed if the imprisoned Iraqi woman is not released. Goto’s fate wasn’t clear if she wasn’t returned.
A POSSIBLE PRECEDENT
A prisoner swap would set a precedent for negotiating with Islamic State militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. It would also run counter to Jordan’s approach toward Islamic militants and to the position of its main ally, the United States, of not negotiating with extremists.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has also vowed not to give into terrorist threats, saying doing so “may lead to more terrorism against Japanese people, and a world that allows brutal violence.”
But Jordanian King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. His nation’s participation in a U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State group is widely unpopular, and the pilot’s capture in December has hardened public opposition to the air strikes.