Jordan attempted to turn the tables on Islamic State militants last night by threatening to execute death row inmates with connections to the radical group.
The day after hostage negotiations with Islamic State (Isis) appeared to collapse, Jordan threatened to carry out the threat if the captured air force pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh was not released.
Members of the hostage pilot’s tribe appeared to be at breaking point on Thursday night, when a sunset deadline passed without word from either side.
It was claimed yesterday morning that members of the government’s negotiating team had seized the opportunity to raise the stakes for Islamic State.
A government source is said to have warned: “If they kill the pilot, [Jordan] will implement the death sentences for Sajida [al-Rishawi] and other Isis prisoners as soon as possible.”
Islamic State has named Rishawi, the Iraqi would-be suicide bomber, as a prisoner it wants freed.
At least 111 people are on death row in Jordan. Most were convicted of murder, not terrorism. Between 2011 and 2013, 40 people were sentenced to death by Jordan’s major crimes court and none by the state security court, which handles all terrorism-related charges.
In 2005 and 2006, Jordan sentenced several al-Qaeda operatives to death. Besides Rishawi, there is Ziad Karbouli, a former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader.
Azmi Jayyousi is another al-Qaeda figure held in Jordan who might be of value to Islamic State.
Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the high-profile jihadist preacher, is also imprisoned in Jordan, although not on death row.
Insiders have suggested that his release may be a bargaining chip for Jordan in what is becoming a long and drawn-out negotiation for Mr Kasasbeh, who has been held by Islamic State militants since Christmas Eve, when his aircraft crashed in Raqqa.
Insiders said that King Abdullah had ordered a committee to deal with the pilot’s case, keeping the tribe informed and co-ordinating every move.
Islamic State has said that it would release Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist it has held prisoner since September, in exchange for Rishawi.
Mr Goto went to Syria with the aim of travelling to the Islamic State capital to “embed” with the jihadists, believing that Japan’s reputation as a “neutral” in the Middle East would protect him from the risks faced by British and American journalists in Iraq.
His misjudgment was compounded when Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, visited the Middle East this month and declared himself a supporter of the struggle against Islamic State.
Toshi Maeda, a video news producer and friend of Mr Goto, said: “He was trying to get Isis’s support, so that he could report on the effects of the American bombing on ordinary people.”
Jordan’s position has not changed: it refuses to release Rishawi unless Mr Kasasbeh is included in the deal.
· Abu Malik, a chemical weapons engineer under Saddam Hussein who went on to join Islamic State, was killed in a coalition air strike near Mosul last week, according to US Central Command.