Jordan said Sunday it still is willing to swap prisoners with the Islamic State group to save a Jordanian fighter pilot held captive by the ISIS militants, the Associated Press reported. The renewed offer to swap al Qaeda prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi for Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh comes one day after a video purportedly showed Japanese journalist Kenji Goto’s beheading.
The Sunni militants purportedly posted an audio message last week threatening to kill the Jordanian pilot if Rishawi was not released Thursday. Rishawi is an attempted female suicide bomber who faces the death penalty for her alleged role in triple hotel bombings in Jordan in 2005, the New York Times reported.
Jordanian officials demanded evidence Kaseasbeh was still alive and threatened to expedite Rishawi’s execution if the pilot was killed. But the deadline has since passed. Goto was allegedly executed Saturday. The Islamic State group initially had sought to swap Goto for Rishawi after executing Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa. "You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately -- me for her," the voice of a man claiming to be Goto said in a video posted Jan. 24 by a known supporter of the Islamic State group.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani Sunday told Jordan's official Petra news agency the kingdom “will do everything it can to save the life and secure the release of its pilot.” Momani told AP Sunday Jordan is "still ready to hand over" Rishawi in return for Kaseasbeh.
Jordan is reportedly working to confirm whether the pilot is still alive and officials are conducting indirect, covert negotiations with the Islamic State group through tribal leaders in neighboring Iraq, AP reported. "All state organizations have been mobilized to secure the proof of life that we require so that he can be freed and returned to his home,” Momani told Petra.
Kaseasbeh’s relatives said they want the officials to be more transparent about the release efforts."We want the government to tell us the truth," Yassin Rawashda, an uncle of the pilot, told AP Sunday, adding the family is not demanding a full briefing but whether the efforts to free Kaseasbeh are headed “in a positive direction or not.”
"It's hard to calculate what the Islamic State has done or will do to al-Kaseasbeh," Rita Katz, director and co-founder of the Search for International Terrorist Entities, a private intelligence group in Washington, said in an analysis Saturday. ”The group may have more to gain by keeping him alive. However, as the Islamic State has proven to ignore both logic and morality, it is indeed possible that his execution video will be posted online soon."
Kaseasbeh was captured by ISIS militants in late December after his F-16 jet crashed near the group's de facto capital of Raqqa. Jordan is part of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, which launched in September.
The Islamic State group insurgency controls about a third of both Iraq and Syria, according to the Associated Press. The Sunni militant group seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate over all Muslims in the two countries.