Report: Jordan pilot may be freed in ISIL hostage deal

TOKYO - Jordan could comply with a hostage swap to save the life of a Japanese journalist held by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants - but only if ISIL also throws in one of its own, a report said Tuesday.

Kyodo reported that two members of Jordan's parliament have suggested that Amman may accept a demand to trade a convicted terrorist it holds for Japanese journalist Kenji Goto if ISIL also releases a Jordanian military pilot it is suspected to hold.

A video released Saturday shows Japanese journalist Kenji Goto holding a photograph that appears to show the body of fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa, while a voiceover - thought to be from Goto - described how he was "slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate."

Goto, 47, adds that his captors had dropped their demand for a $200 million ransom, asking instead for the release of Sagda Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi - an Iraqi national sentenced to death in Jordan in 2005 following a spate of hotel bombings that left dozens dead or injured.

When asked about such a trade, top Japan government spokesman Yoshihide Suga declined to comment Tuesday, saying the situation is "ongoing."

"We are not aware of that," he told a press conference in Tokyo.

Ali Bani Ata, chair of the Japan-Jordan parliamentary friendship league, and Bassam Al-Manaseer, chair of the Arab International Affairs Committee, told Kyodo that Amman has been in contact with ISIL through a third party.

Jordanian pilot First Lieutenant Muath al Kasaesbeh was taken into captivity after his fighter jet was downed near Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria, on Dec. 24.

He was the first foreign military pilot to fall into ISIL hands since an international coalition began its aerial campaign against the group in September.

Japan is not part of that coalition - its pacifist constitution prohibits it from sending military aid abroad - but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged $200 million in non-military aid to the region which ISIL used as justification for its initial ransom demand.

Al-Manaseer told Kyodo that it would be impossible for Amman to solely release al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto, given Jordan's diplomatic policy and that if such a swap were made the pilot could be killed as he would no longer be a candidate for such trades.

"We are afraid that Daish [ISIL] take out this pilot from the game. It means they want to kill him," he said.

He added that the best-case scenario would be is Goto and the pilot both were both exchanged for a death-row prisoner - such as al-Rishawi - but noted that ISIL could then raise its demands.

"The most difficult thing is Daish [ISIL] is not clear about what they want," he added.

Japanese diplomat Yasuhide Nakayama said Monday that the two governments were "joining hands" to free both men.

"We are going to strive to rescue Mr. Goto with the full support of the Jordanian government," said Nakayama, who is overseeing the situation in Amman.

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