The agony of the families of a captured journalist and fighter pilot is continuing after a sunset deadline for a possible prisoner swap allegedly set by their Islamic State (IS) kidnappers passed with no clue whether they are still alive.
Japan had no new progress to report after a late night that ended with the Jordanian government saying it would release an al-Qaida prisoner from death row only with proof the airman was alive.
“There is nothing I can tell you,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters, but he repeated Japan’s “strong trust” in Jordan to help save the Japanese hostage, freelance journalist Kenji Goto.
Mr Suga said the government had been in close contact with Mr Goto’s wife Rinko Jogo, who released a statement pleading for her husband’s life.
“I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left,” Ms Jogo said in a statement released through the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based organisation for freelance journalists.
Ms Jogo said she had avoided public comment until the last minute to try to protect her daughters, a newborn baby and a two-year-old, from media attention.
An audio message purportedly posted online by IS group said the Jordanian pilot, Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh, would be killed if would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi was not delivered to the Turkish border by sunset yesterday, Iraq time. There was no mention on whether the pilot or Mr Goto would be traded for her.
The authenticity of the recording could not be verified independently but the possibility of a swap was raised on Wednesday when Jordan said it was willing to trade Rishawi for the pilot.
After sundown in the Middle East, with no news on the fate of either Lt Kaseasbeh or Mr Goto, the families’ agonising wait dragged on.
In the Jordanian capital Amman, the pilot’s brother Jawdat Kaseasbeh, said his family had “no clue” where the negotiations stood.
“We received no assurances from anyone that he is alive,” he said. “We are waiting, just waiting.”
Jordan’s government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani, signalled last night that, in any case, a swap was on hold because the hostage-takers had not delivered proof the pilot was still alive.
Rishawi, 44, faces death by hanging for her role in a suicide bombing, one of three simultaneous attacks on Amman hotels in November 2005 that killed 60 people. She survived because her belt of explosives did not detonate. She initially confessed, but later recanted, saying she was an unwilling participant.
She is from the Iraqi city of Ramadi and has close family ties to the Iraqi branch of al Qaida, a precursor of IS. Three of her brothers were al Qaida operatives killed in fighting in Iraq.
Jordan has faced tough choices in the hostage drama.
Releasing Rishawi, implicated in the worst terror attack in Jordan, would be at odds with the government’s tough stance on Islamic extremism. But King Abdullah is under domestic pressure to bring home Lt Kaseasbeh, who was captured in December after his Jordanian F-16 crashed near the IS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.
He is the first foreign military pilot to be captured since the US and its allies began air strikes against IS more than four months ago.
Jordan’s participation in the air strikes is unpopular in the kingdom and the pilot is seen by some as the victim of a war they feel should not involve the country. Lt Kaseasbeh’s relatives have expressed such views and accused the government of bungling efforts to win his freedom.
“They abandoned Muath, the son of the army!” chanted protesters gathered at a “diwan”, or meeting place, in Amman for tribesmen from Karak, southern Jordan.
Ms Jogo has revealed that she exchanged several emails with her husband’s captors and that in the past 20 hours she received one that appeared to be their final demand. She urged the Japanese and Jordanian governments to finalise a swap that would free both hostages.
“I beg the Jordanian and Japanese governments to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands,” she said.
The hostage drama began last week after IS released a video showing Mr Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa kneeling in orange jumpsuits beside a masked man who threatened to kill them in 72 hours unless Japan paid a £132 million ransom. That demand has since apparently shifted to one for the release of Rishawi.
The militants have reportedly killed Mr Yukawa, 42, although that has not been confirmed.