Could a prisoner swap free a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian pilot held hostage by ISIS?
Jordan’s government says it’s willing to hand over a convicted would-be suicide bomber in exchange, as ISIS has demanded. But a deadline set by the Islamist terror group has already passed, and it’s unclear whether a deal could still be in the offing.
It’s a complicated crisis with dizzying developments involving several countries. Here’s a look at the key people involved:
•Kenji Goto , an experienced Japanese war journalist, has been at the center of several recent threats by ISIS. Last week, the group demanded $200 million from Japan in exchange for Goto and fellow Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, an aspiring security contractor. Since then, ISIS has claimed Yukawa is dead, but Goto is still alive.
• Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh was captured by ISIS last month after the fighter jet he was flying crashed in Syria. ISIS says he’s still alive, but Jordan’s foreign minister told CNN his government has asked for a proof of life, but hasn’t received it.
• Sajida al-Rishawi is an Iraqi prisoner on death row in Jordan for her role in deadly bombings. ISIS has demanded her release in exchange for Goto and al-Kassasbeh. Jordan says it’s willing to make the swap.
A video file posted online Tuesday said that ISIS would kill al-Kassasbeh and Goto within 24 hours if Jordan did not release al-Rishawi, who has been imprisoned since 2005.
The deadline has passed, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told CNN on Wednesday, adding that his country’s offer remains on the table.
Jordan will release al-Rishawi if ISIS releases al-Kassasbeh, Judeh told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Even though his government’s announcement doesn’t mention Goto, the foreign minister said that the Japanese journalist is not forgotten.
“Of course,” Goto’s release would be part of a prisoner exchange, Judeh said, but the priority for Jordan is al-Kassasbeh’s freedom.
It wasn’t clear whether ISIS would accept Jordan’s offer. In two videos since last week, the terror group appeared to offer Goto’s freedom in exchange for al-Rishawi’s.
It did not offer al-Kassasbeh’s freedom, but indicated in one instance that he and Goto would be killed if al-Rishawi were not freed.
With the fates of their sons hanging in the balance, the families of Goto and al-Kassasbeh called on their governments to do everything they can to save the hostages before time runs out.
Goto, 47, is reported to have three children, two of them with his current wife.
His mother begged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to secure her son’s release.
“Please save the life of Kenji,” Junko Ishido said. “I call on you to work with all your strength in negotiations with the Jordanian government, until the very end.”
Al-Kassasbeh’s father has called on Jordanian authorities to act as well.
“I firmly ask whomever has sent Moaz to fight outside the borders of Jordan, on a mission unrelated to us, to make strong efforts to bring back Moaz,” Safi al-Kassasbeh said Tuesday.
ISIS says it captured al-Kassasbeh after he ejected from his F-16 jet last month near Raqqa, the militant group’s de facto capital in Syria.
“Moaz’s blood is precious, it’s precious and it represents the blood of all Jordanians,” his father said.
But the pilot’s father suggested his son’s case shouldn’t be mixed up with Goto’s.
“To link Moaz’s situation with the Japanese journalist, this has nothing to do with us,” he said. “The Japanese journalist has his country to defend him.”
Grim track record
ISIS, which holds large areas of Iraq and Syria under its brutal rule, has a grim track record of ruthlessly killing hostages. Last year, it publicized its series of beheadings of three American and two British captives.
And a new post from the group on Tuesday announced that time was suddenly in short supply for Goto and the Jordanian pilot. The Japanese hostage is shown handcuffed and dressed in orange, holding a picture that appears to be al-Kassasbeh. “I’ve been told this is my last message,” a voice purporting to be that of Goto says, demanding the prisoner exchange.
CNN couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of Tuesday’s message, which was posted to YouTube and distributed on social media by known ISIS supporters. The Japanese government said there was no evidence so far that it wasn’t Goto speaking in the video.
In another video posted Saturday that’s believed to be from ISIS, Goto was shown holding a picture of what appeared to be the corpse of Yukawa, the other Japanese man ISIS was holding.
In the Saturday post, a voice thought to be Goto’s first set out the idea of exchanging him for al-Rishawi, but no clear deadline was mentioned.
An ISIS-affiliated Internet radio station also reported the killing of Yukawa and the proposed prisoner swap.