Splayed across the online jihadist magazine Dabiq, the harrowing photos and words of a Jordanian pilot held hostage by Islamic State are designed to make readers fear the worst. Experts, however, said there was another message: that Isis is ready to negotiate.
In the interview First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh, 26, details how the coalition war effort is run, listing bases and operating procedures. His description contains some deliberate inaccuracies that experts read as clues to the organisation’s intentions.
“The mention of Qatar as being in the coalition is Isis’s way of saying they’re not prepared to deal with Qatar as an intermediary,” Wassim Nasr, a French expert in jihadist movements, said.
By pushing for direct negotiation with Jordan, Isis would force that country and others to acknowledge it as a political entity, not just as a terrorist organisation. “For Jordan to accept to negotiate with Isis would be recognition of the enemy,” Mr Nasr said.
Jordan has made clear it has no intention of quitting the coalition and that it views Isis as a scourge upon the region. However, it has vowed to do all it can to recover its lost pilot.
Since Mr Kasaesbeh’s aircraft was downed over northern Syria on Christmas Eve, the Jordanian government has worked to open avenues for negotiation through an array of possible intermediaries, including Turkey.
If Isis is prepared to negotiate only directly, Jordan will need to look closer to home for a person who can provide access to the group. This may mean reaching out to Jordanian tribes whose membership includes high-ranking Isis officials.
“We need to look at this through their eyes: coalition planes were attacking them at night and this man got caught in the morning. For them his capture is an outcome of his deed and a sign from Allah,” Mr Nasr said.