Isis hostage crisis: You have until sunset to hand over prisoner or we kill your pilot, Isis tells Jordan

Arab state shifts usual hardline stance to negotiate giving jihadists a failed suicide bomber, as new audio message, purportedly from Japanese hostage, demands that exchange must take place by sunset on Thursday

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The Independent Online

An audio message purportedly from a Japanese journalist being held by Isis 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.

The reports emerged after Jordan became the first Arab state to agree to a prisoner/hostage swap with Isis, offering to hand over an Iraqi al-Qaeda prisoner it has on death row in exchange for a Jordanian fighter pilot taken captive last year.

“Jordan is ready to release prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh is released and his life spared,” the government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said on state television. The move marks a departure from Jordan’s normally hardline approach of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, and could potentially set a precedent for prisoner swaps with Isis.

However, Reuters reported on Thursday that an unverified audio message, purportedly from Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, had been released with new demands from Isis. The message, posted on YouTube, said: "I am Kenji Goto. This is a voice message I've been told to send to you. If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday sunset 29th of January Mosul time, the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately." A spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office said his government was analysing the new recording, which would extend the deadline for an exchange.

Mr Goto, also taken by Isis last year. The fates of the two men had seemingly been linked after an earlier video was released on Tuesday purportedly featuring Mr Goto, in which he said both his and Lt Kasaesbeh’s lives were at risk if Rishawi was not released. Mr Goto was given 24 hours to live; Lt Kasaesbeh less time – that deadline passed today.

In recent months, Isis has murdered a number of British and American hostages and, most recently, claimed to have killed Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, who was being held alongside Mr Goto, after a $100m ransom for him was not paid – the killing followed the a previous video, allegedly from Isis that had set a deadline of 72 hours for the Japanese government to pay for the release of the two Japanese men. The same amount had been the demand for Mr Goto – to make $200m for the two men – until Isis changed its tack last weekend. Other Western hostages held by the group have been freed, with some reports suggesting that ransoms were paid by their governments.

Jordan is willing to release jailed female militant Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh (EPA)

Mr Goto went to Syria in late October, apparently to secure the release of his friend Mr Yukawa, who was captured in August.

Jordan admitted that they still do not know if Lt Kasaesbeh – who was captured by the group in December while conducting air strikes as part of the US-led coalition against Isis – is still alive, but said that a request for proof of his safety had gone unanswered by Isis. Tokyo, meanwhile, has not directly commented on Jordan’s move to release Rishawi, although officials earlier said they are coordinating with Jordan’s government in an attempt to free Mr Goto.

The pilot’s family have criticised Jordan for not doing enough to free the pilot, and around 200 people joined protests in the Jordanian capital of Amman following the release of Tuesday’s video.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” his father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, told the Associated Press, after the possibility of a swap was raised. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does,” he said.

Rishawi, who is reportedly the sister of an aide to former al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is on death row following her role in a suicide bombing which killed 60 in Jordan in 2005 – her explosive belt failed to go off. She confessed to her role in the attack alongside her husband, who was killed.

Jordanian authorities have said the attack was orchestrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq – the group from which Isis would spring – led at the time by Jordanian-born Zarqawi.

Bassam Al-Manasseer, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Jordan’s parliament has been quoted as saying Jordan would not free Rishawi for the Japanese hostage only, according to AP.

Japanese journalist Kenji Goto is being held captive by Isis

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier condemned Tuesday’s video as “despicable” and called on Jordan to cooperate in working for the release of Mr Goto. His office said he had no immediate comment on the Jordanian statement.

Meanwhile, Mr Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told reporters at her Tokyo home: “My emotions are all over the place. A time limit has been set, and that has made me nervous.” She had earlier urged the Japanese government to do its utmost to save his life. The hostage taking has thrust Japan into the conflict in the Middle East.