Jordan renews hostage swap offer

  • Date February 2 2015
  • Publication The Times

By Catherine Philp and Sara Elizabeth Williams

Jordan renewed its offer to Islamic State (Isis) to swap a failed suicide bomber for a Jordanian fighter pilot yesterday, as the government of King Abdullah II came under mounting pressure to secure his freedom.

The renewed offer, which Isis has yet to address, came hours after the beheading of the Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto, whose fate had been linked with that of the pilot, Muaz al-Kasasbeh. Isis threatened to kill Mr Kasasbeh and then Mr Goto unless Jordan released Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi al-Qaeda prisoner who has been on death row in Amman for the past nine years.

Jordan says it will release her in exchange for the pilot, but Isis has yet to respond to demands for proof that Mr Kasasbeh is alive, giving rise to fearsthat he is already dead.

Mohammed al-Momani, the spokesman for the Jordanian government, said that “all state organisations have been mobilised to secure the proof of life that we require”.

Mr Kasasbeh’s family, meanwhile, demanded that the government revealed what it knew about Mr Kasasbeh’s fate in the light of Mr Goto’s killing. “We want the government to tell us the truth,” said Yassin Rawashda, an uncle of the pilot. He said the family was not demanding a full briefing, but wanted to hear if release efforts were headed “in a positive direction”.

That was a softening in tone from last week when members of the family, part of a politically influential tribe, led protests voicing unprecedented public criticism of the monarch. In a statement, King Abdullah said: “All efforts are being exploited to seek the release of Muaz al-Kasasbeh.”

Jordan is conflicted over its participation in the US-led military coalition against Isis and Mr Kasasbeh’s capture has served as a focus for dissent. Isis’s demand that al-Rishawi be released in exchange for Mr Goto was seen as an effort to stir up trouble and undermine Abdullah’s leadership. Members of Mr Kasasbeh’s tribe suggested the swap weeks ago but Isis failed to bite, apparently judging the pilot too important to exchange for al-Rishawi.

Opposition to Jordan’s role in the coalition is compounded by pro-Isis sympathies among radicals opposed to Jordan’s western-allied government. After Saudi Arabia, Jordan is thought to provide the second largest number of Isis’s foreign fighters.