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Feb 1, 2015 10:27 AM

Jordan renews swap offer to free pilot held by Islamic State

The Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) Jordan renewed an offer Sunday to swap an al-Qaida prisoner for a fighter pilot held captive by the Islamic State group, a day after a video purportedly showed the militants beheading a Japanese hostage.

The fates of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto previously had been linked. The video of the beheading made no mention of the pilot, raising fears for the lieutenant's life.

Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned the killing as "criminal act" and "stressed the need for concerted international efforts to fight terrorism and extremism," the official news agency Petra said. It said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke to the king by phone.

The Islamic State group last week demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an al-Qaida prisoner who faces death by hanging for her role in triple hotel bombings in Jordan in 2005.

Jordan offered last week to release her for the pilot, but the militants didn't say at the time if they were considering such a deal. An audio message last week, purportedly from the Islamic State group, only said the pilot would be killed if al-Rishawi was not released Thursday.

The deadline passed after Jordan said it cannot free her without proof the pilot is alive. Late Saturday, the video purportedly showing Goto's beheading was released.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani told The Associated Press on Sunday that "we are still ready to hand over" al-Rishawi in return for the pilot.

Earlier, the state-run Petra news agency quoted him as saying Jordan is working to confirm the pilot "is still alive and ensure his release and return to Jordan."

Al-Momani also said his country spared no effort to free Goto.

Relatives of the pilot, meanwhile, said they want the government to be more open with them about efforts to free him.

"We want the government to tell us the truth," said Yassin Rawashda, an uncle of the pilot. He said the family is not demanding a full briefing, but wants to hear if release efforts are headed "in a positive direction or not."

The pilot's father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, said he is worried, but still is putting his faith in the government.

"Of course, I'm concerned," he said by telephone. "This is my son. I'm always concerned about him and any development makes me more concerned."

Jordan is reportedly conducting indirect, behind-the-scenes negotiations through tribal leaders in neighboring Iraq.

Al-Kaseasbeh was captured in December when his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group. The militants control about a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.

Jordan, a staunch Western ally, is part of a U.S.-led military coalition that has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State group targets since September.

King Abdullah II says the campaign against the extremists is a battle over values, but participation in the airstrikes is not popular among Jordanians. The hostage crisis has prompted more vocal criticism of the government position.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.


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