Jordan agrees to prisoner swap with ISIS in deal that could free pilot, Japanese … – Fox News
Jordan agreed Wednesday to an ISIS demand for the release of a female jihadist, in a move that could free a Jordanian pilot captured in Syria — but it also left in doubt the fate of a Japanese hostage as the terror group’s negotiation deadline passed.
The development comes as debate rages in Washington over whether the U.S. government has effectively opened the door to negotiating with terror groups. Asked Wednesday about the Jordanian position, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said every country “has the ability and the right to make decisions,” but reiterated the U.S. position that “we don’t make concessions to terrorists.”
Still, the U.S. last year traded five Guantanamo prisoners to a Taliban-aligned network to secure Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom. Reports have emerged that Qatar also proposed a trade last year for an Al Qaeda operative held in a U.S. prison, though the administration insists no such trade was considered.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz, while also saying U.S. policy is “that we don’t pay ransom, we don’t give concessions to terrorist organizations,” sought Wednesday to distinguish the current proposed trade from the Taliban-Bergdahl swap.
He described that as part of an “end of conflict interaction,” as part of the wind-down of the Afghanistan war. Further, he said the Taliban are an “armed insurgency,” while ISIS is a “terrorist group.”
In the case of the ISIS prisoner, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said in a statement the nation was prepared to free Sajida al-Rishawi, who was convicted of taking part in a 2005 deadly hotel bombing that killed 60 people, if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed. His comments were carried by Jordan’s official Petra news agency. Although he made no mention of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, a hostage audio message released by Islamic State a day earlier tied Goto’s fate to that of Al-Rishawi, as well.
Jordan is reportedly in indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the hostages’ release. The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Jordan’s parliament, Bassam Al-Manasseer, has been quoted as saying that Jordan and Japan would not negotiate directly with the Islamic State group and would not free al-Rishawi for the Japanese hostage only.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh later wrote on his Twitter account that Jordan asked for proof that the pilot is alive. “We have asked for some time for evidence of the health and safety of the hero Muath, but didn’t receive it,” he wrote.
Efforts to release the pilot and the journalist gained urgency with the release Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the Iraqi woman was not freed. In the message, the extremists say the two hostages will be killed within 24 hours — late Wednesday night Japan time — unless Jordan frees al-Rishawi.
“Please save Kenji’s life.”
– Mother of Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto
The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, said her family was told the Islamic State group also wants his release as part of a swap, but it is unclear if that was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.
Al-Karboli, an aide to a former Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.
Earlier Wednesday, Goto’s mother appealed publicly to Japan’s premier to save her son. Junko Ishido, read to reporters her plea to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which she said she sent after both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman declined to meet with her.
“Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.
“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian government is under growing pressure at home to win the release of the pilot, with his father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, pleading with Jordan “to meet the demands” of the Islamic State group.
“All people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan,” he told The Associated Press.
Al-Kaseasbeh has repeatedly criticized the Jordanian government’s handling of the crisis, saying more must be done to bring his son home.
“The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does,” the father said.
Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot they have captured since a U.S.-led coalition that includes Jordan began an aerial campaign against the Islamic State in August.
The developments Wednesday came after Islamic State released a flurry of grim threats at the West, one of which included an apparent beheading of a captured Kurdish soldier. In that video, discovered by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) on Tuesday, three Islamic State fighters stand behind the kneeling Kurdish fighter as one of the extremists launches into a diatribe against the U.S. and other Western nations.
“Know, oh Obama, that will reach America,” says one of the fighters, clad in black and wearing a balaclava, in a translation from Arabic provided by MEMRI. “Know also that we will cut off your head in the White House, and transform America into a Muslim Province.”
The extremist also issued warnings to European nations.
“And this is my message to France and to its sister, Belgium,” he said. “We advise you that we will come to you with car bombs and explosive charges, and will cut off your heads.”
The video fades to black as one Islamic State fighter brings a knife up to the unidentified Kurdish fighter’s throat.
In the audio message released Tuesday, Goto said Jordan held his life in its hands.
“Any more delays by the Jordanian government will mean [that] they are responsible for the death of their pilot, which then will be followed by mine [i.e. my death],” says a voice believed to be that of Kenji Goto, one of two Japanese hostages shown in a video released a week ago, along with a demand for $200 million from Japan. “I only have 24 hours left to live, and the pilot has even less. Please don’t leave us to die.”
Goto is a freelance journalist who was captured in Syria late last year, after reportedly traveling there to try to help Haruna Yukawa, a private soldier who had gone earlier to fight and was captured. Yukawa is believed to have been beheaded after Japan refused to pay the ransom.
Goto’s audio message, which is just under 2 minutes long, was released in a file that includes a still photo of himself holding a picture believed to be of al-Kaseasbeh.
“I’ve been told [by ISIS] that this is my last message,” the Japanese hostage says, adding that the only obstacle remaining for his release is the Jordanian government and that “time is now running very short!”
Yet another ISIS video was released online on Tuesday, according to MEMRI, bringing to three the total of audio and video messages from the terror group since the weekend.
Tuesday’s video matched a message released over the weekend, though neither bore the logo of the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm. The video released over the weekend appeared to show Goto holding the body of his murdered countryman.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.