Jordan's government said on Thursday that it would only consider releasing an Iraqi jihadi if it was assured that a captive Jordanian pilot, held by the self-styled "Islamic State" ("IS"), had not been killed.
"We asked for evidence that the pilot is still alive and we have not received anything yet. We insist on this demand," government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said. Twenty-six-year-old Muath al-Kaseasbeh was captured last month while flying over Syria as part of the US coalition fighting IS militants.
Earlier on Thursday, IS terrorists released an audio recording purpoting to be the voice of Japanese IS hostage Kenji Goto. The man's voice said that the captors would kill al-Kaseasbeh by sunset unless Iraqi jihadi Sajida al-Rishawi were not freed.
Meanwhile, Goto's wife Rinko also said she had received a new message from IS militants, news agency AFP reported.
"In the past 20 hours the kidnappers have sent me what appears to be their latest and final demand... If Sajida is not on the Turkish border ready for the exchange for Kenji by Thursday 29th Jan at sunset, the Jordanian pilot will be executed immediately," Rinko said in a statement published by the Rory Peck Trust, an organisation that supports freelance journalists.
Iraqi jihadist linked to al Qaida
IS had earlier demanded a $200-million (176-million-euro) ransom for Kenji Goto and his compatriot Haruna Yukawa in a video posted on January 20. In later messages, the IS dropped its ransom demands, claiming instead it had beheaded Haruna Yakawa.
The militant group then insisted on the release of al-Rishawi, responsible for a 2005 bombing on three Amman hotels, which killed 60 people. Al-Rishawi is known to have close ties with al Qaeda in Iraq; she is related to its commander al-Zarqawi.
A staunch ally of the US, Jordan is facing difficulties in resolving the hostage crisis. A swap with Islamic terrorists could jeopardize its war against the militants, but the government faces extreme pressure from home to release pilot al-Kaseasbeh, considered a hero by many.
Protests have already erupted in Karak, al-Kaseasbeh's hometown, opposing Jordan's role in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
mg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)