Japan, Jordan working closely on hostage crisis

Jan 30, 2015, 1:41 AM EST
People stage a rally near the Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo on January 28, 2015 to support Japanese hostage Kenji Goto who has been kidnapped by the Islamic State group.
AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI

Japan was working closely with Jordan on Friday to find out what was happening to a Japanese journalist held by Islamic State militants after a deadline passed for the release of an Iraqi would-be suicide bomber on death-row in Jordan.

According to Reuters, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said every effort was being made to secure the release of journalist Kenji Goto. "We are gathering and analyzing information while asking for cooperation from Jordan and other countries, making every effort to free Kenji Goto," Abe told a parliamentary panel.

Jordan said on Thursday it was still holding the Iraqi woman death-row prisoner as a deadline passed for her release set by the militants, who threatened to kill a Jordanian pilot unless she was handed over by sunset.

An audio message purportedly from Goto said the pilot would be killed unless Jordan freed Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people in Amman. The message postponed a previous deadline set on Tuesday in which Goto said he would be killed within 24 hours if Rishawi was not freed.

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.

An audio message purportedly from a Japanese journalist being held by Islamic State militants said a Jordanian air force pilot also captured by the group would be killed unless an Iraqi female prisoner in Jordan was released by sunset on Thursday.

Jordan said on Wednesday it had received no assurance that al-Kasaesbeh was safe and that it would go ahead with a proposed prisoner swap only if he was freed. The audio tape message implied that the Jordanian pilot would not be part of the exchange deal, indicating any swap would be between Goto - a veteran war reporter - and al-Rishawi.

Any swap that left out the pilot would not go down well with the public in Jordan, where officials have insisted he is their priority.

On Tuesday, a video was released purporting to show the Japanese national saying he had 24 hours to live unless Jordan released al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people in the capital Amman.

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