Under pressure, Jordan proposes prisoner swap with ISIS

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Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills in for Marco Werman and this is The World. From its brutal attacks on the ground in Iraq and Syria to its requiring of young people in the West, the extremist group ISIS is almost constantly in the news. But, most of all, it's hard to think of ISIS without thinking of the hostages they've killed and the ones they still hold. At the center of the latest drama are two hostages -- an Air Force pilot from Jordan and a freelance journalist from Japan -- both of whom ISIS has threatened to kill. Derek Stoffel is in Amman for CBC News. Jordan seems to be willing to actually make a deal with ISIS to get one of its hostages released. What is that deal?

 

Derek Stoffel: Well, Jordan is prepared to release an Iraqi woman who is being held here. She was convicted for her role in a suicide bombing ten years ago here in Amman. She was originally given the death penalty, but that was commuted to life in prison. Ever since the Jordanian pilot (his name is First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh)... When his plane crashed back in December, this whole country has been transfixed by his faith. There's been really growing pressure on King Abdullah to do anything, really, in the words of the pilots father. He said that, last night, "Jordan must do anything to get my son released." It does appear that Jordanians are listening because I think it was a bit surprising when they came out and said that, "yes, we are prepared to release this Iraqi woman in exchange for the pilot." Now, that was several hours ago and the Jordanian foreign minister is saying that, "well, yes, we've been in touch with ISIS. We asked for proof the pilot is still alive." And they haven't heard anything back.

 

Hills: Doesn't Jordan have a policy of not negotiating with ISIS?

 

Stoffel: No. It is a bit different here in the Middle East and with Jordan, even though they are a member of the American-lead coalition, the countries that are launching bombing raids on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. So, I think what we're really seeing here is the government reacting to a situation that could quickly get out of hand. Already today in the pilot's hometown there were people out on the street pushing for his release. There is growing sentiment here that the anti-ISIS mission is unpopular. People are asking why they're launching these bombing raids. So, it seems that Jordan's King Abdullah is responding. Just tonight he met with the mother and father of the pilot, so that speaks to the fact that he doesn't want this situation to get out of hand.

 

Hills: I want to now switch to the Japanese hostage. What is the latest?

 

Stoffel: Freelance journalist Kenji Goto. This moment, we believe him to still be alive. There was a video that purports to be Kenji Goto, in which he said -- yesterday at around 4PM local time here in Amman -- "I've got twenty-four hours to live and the pilot even less." So, of course that deadline has come and passed and we haven't heard anything as to what is the situation with Kenji Goto. But, things certainly got muddled here today, Carol, with the announcement from the Jordanians that, yes, they were willing to offer the release of the Iraqi woman for their pilot, because now that had everyone asking... I was standing outside the Jordanian Embassy where there was a top-level Japanese official in town doing the negotiating. So, what does this mean for Japan? Now that the Jordanians are saying "we'll release this woman", what does it mean for the Japanese hostage? No one-- I spoke to a couple of officials at the Japanese Embassy and they would not answer that question. It seems that is the big question from the Japanese side. What does the Jordanian move mean for the Japanese hostage?

 

Hills:? Where does that leave things, Derek? It sounds like officials don't even know exactly where these two hostages are. Is that true?

 

Stoffel: Certainly. We don't know... Are they being held together? In that still photo released yesterday, Kenji Goto was shown holding a picture of the Jordanian pilot, so it did not appear at that stage that they were together. Perhaps ISIS is keeping them apart to make sure that, if there is a raid, both aren't freed. So, certainly here in Jordan, a lot of anxious people. I do know the same situation is true; lots of anxiety in Japan, where people are actually holding vigils outside of government offices.

 

Hills: Do we know that they're both even in Syria or is it not even clear whether they're in Syria or in Iraq?

 

Stoffel: Not clear where they are.

 

Hills: The CBC's Derek Stoffel speaking to us from Amman.