Jordan demands proof from ISIS that pilot is 'still alive' before prisoner swap

by Christian Examiner, |
A masked person holding a knife speaks as he stands in between two kneeling men in this still image taken from an online video released by the militant Islamic State group on January 20, 2015. | REUTERS/Social media website via Reuters TV

AMMAN/TOKYO — Jordan has demanded to see proof that their air force pilot First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh is alive. before they hand over failed extremist suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, who is currently on death row in the country. Although ISIS had set a deadline for the Iraqi woman's release, it passed Thursday.

al-Kasasbeh's plane was shot down over Syria in December, which led to his capture. Another ISIS hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, has been heard in an audio message saying that pilot would be killed unless Jordan freed Sajida al-Rishawi, who killed 60 people with a bomb during a Jordan wedding in 2005.

"We demanded proofs that the pilot is still alive and until now we have not received any," Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammad Momani said in a statement. "We reaffirm our demand."

The extremists' death threats against the pilot came after a previous deadline was postponed Tuesday. At the time, ISIS said they would kill Goto in 24 hours if Rishawi was not freed. Before that, they demanded $200 million from the Japanese government for the journalist and his friend, who was later killed.

The hostage crisis comes as Islamic State, which has already released videos showing the beheadings of five Western hostages, is coming under increased military pressure from U.S.-led air strikes and by Kurdish and Iraqi troops pushing to reverse the Islamist group's territorial gains in Iraq and Syria.

About an hour before the new deadline was due to pass, government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan was still holding Rishawi.

"We want proof ... that the pilot is alive so that we can proceed with what we said yesterday -- exchanging the prisoner with our pilot," Momani told Reuters. "We have not received any evidence that Kasaesbeh is alive. This is what we asked and have not received any proof."

Jordan has also been coordinating with Japanese officials in an effort to secure the release of Goto, a veteran war reporter.

Goto's wife urged both governments to work for her husband's release, saying in a statement to Reuters and other media that she feared this was his last chance.

In the latest audio recording purportedly of Goto, he said that Kasaesbeh would be killed "immediately" if al-Rishawi was not at the Turkish border by sunset on Thursday, Iraq time, ready to be exchanged for the Japanese hostage.

That was some time around 0930 EST.