Jordan "ready" to meet ISIS demand

Jan 28, 2015 12:29 PM by CBS News

Jordan's government said Wednesday that Amman was prepared to free a female suicide bombing suspect held for a decade in exchange for the release of a Jordanian fighter pilot held captive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said officials were "ready to release the Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed."

Official Jordanian government remarks made no mention, however, of the Japanese journalist also being held by ISIS, who the terror group purportedly offered to free in exchange for Rishawi's release in a video posted online Tuesday.

That unverified video contained an audio message, seemingly read by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, in which he said ISIS would first execute Kaseasbeh and then himself if Rishawi was not freed within 24 hours.

As CBS News' Holly Williams reports, the videos released by ISIS over the past several days have never suggested Kaseasbeh might be freed in exchange for Rishawi's release -- only that his life might be spared, for now.

Al-Momani's statement on Wednesday appeared to be an effort to negotiate with ISIS for the release of the Jordanian pilot, but it was unclear whether that key new element in the proposed deal had already been communicated to the extremist group prior to the official's remarks.

In a sign that some exchange of prisoners was in the works, sources in the region told CBS News on Wednesday that a handful of Japanese officials, along with others, had been spotted at a border crossing between Turkey and Syria at the town of Tal Abyad. Neither Kaseasbeh nor Goto were immediately seen at the location, however.

Japanese officials have held intense daily discussions with their counterparts in Amman for several days, but have said virtually nothing in public about the nature of those talks.

Jordan's leaders had come under mounting pressure from both Japan and Kaseasbeh's family to agree to ISIS' demand and free Rishawi.

Leaders of Jordan's powerful tribes had also pressed the government to agree to the swap to spare the life of Kaseasbeh. Several demonstrations cropped up outside government buildings in Amman overnight, demanding Rishawi's release. The pilot's father reportedly took to pan-Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera to call on his government to save his son.

"What do we gain from keeping this Rishawi in prison anyway?" the pilot's father was quoted as saying.

Earlier, in Japan, Goto's mother issued an emotional plea for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to work with his Jordanian counterparts to secure her son's release.

"Please save Kenji," pleaded Junko Ishido in a tearful public statement. "Kenji has only a little time left."

ISIS said in an online video on Jan. 20 that it had Goto and another Japanese man, Haruna Yukawa, and would kill them within 72 hours unless it was paid a ransom of $200 million.

Over the weekend, a new unverified video showed a photo of Goto holding a picture of what appeared to be Yukawa's beheaded body. That message also came with an audio clip, claiming to be Goto, saying his captors had changed their demand to a prisoner swap. That audio was the first time ISIS had publicly demanded the release of Rishawi, an al Qaeda suspect held in Jordan.

The third message, the one released Tuesday, renewed the offer to free Goto and the Jordanian in exchange for Rishawi, but announced a new, 24 hour deadline to do so.

According to the Washington Post, ISIS' interest in Rishawi likely stems from her links to the slain founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group which would eventually morph into ISIS.

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