Distraught family members are awaiting news of the fate of two men held captive by the militant group Islamic State (IS) — a Jordanian pilot and former Japanese war correspondent — after the second deadline for a hostage exchange of sunset local time Thursday passed with no immediate word of their safety.
The militant group released its second negotiation message Wednesday afternoon, threatening to kill Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh within 24 hours if the government did not hand over failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, who has been imprisoned for 10 years in Jordan.
The message allegedly features Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who has also been held captive by the militant group since October. The 30-second clip does not include video footage of Goto, but features audio that is purportedly a recording of his voice, which sounds identical to the voice featured in earlier messages released by the group. The Japanese government is investigating the tape.
New Islamic State recording sets 'sunset' deadline for proposed prisoner swap. Read more here.
Approximately an hour before the sun was due to set in the region on Thursday, Jordanian officials demanded proof from IS that Kasaesbeh was still alive. The Jordanian government previously offered to release Rishawi, who has links with al Qaeda, in return for 26-year-old Kasaesbeh, who was captured when his plane was downed in December.
"We want to see a proof of life of the Jordanian pilot and then we can talk about the exchange between Sajida al-Rishawi and the Jordanian pilot," government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Thursday afternoon. There was no mention of Koto in the demand.
Momani confirmed that Rishawi, who has been on death row since 2005 for her role in a series of suicide bombings that killed 57 people in Amman, is still being held in Jordan.
The latest Islamic State audio recording says the pilot will be "killed immediately" if Rishawi is not ready to be handed over to militants at the border by "sunset" Thursday, approximately 9:30am ET.
Meanwhile, Kasaesbeh's family anxiously awaits news.
"We received no assurances from anyone that he is alive," Jawdat al-Kaseasbeh, a brother of the pilot, told the Associated Press. "We have no clue about where the negotiations stand now. We are waiting, just waiting."
Why the Islamic State wants failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for hostages. Read more here.
The back-and-forth has sparked fears that Koto, who was captured by militants last October, may have been edged out of negotiations between Jordan and IS.
On Thursday, the journalist's wife, Rinko, made an emotional plea for the safe return of her husband.
"I fear that this is the last chance for my husband and we now have only a few hours left to secure his release and the life of Lt. Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh," she said. "I beg the Jordanian and Japanese government to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands."
It is believed that Goto, 47, traveled to Syria in October with the aim of negotiating the release of his friend and fellow captive, 42-year old Haruna Yukawa. The two men had met earlier in 2014, and traveled to Iraq together in the summer.
IS allegedly executed Yukawa over the weekend. Twitter accounts associated with the militant group released a video purportedly featuring Goto's voice, accompanied by images on him holding before and after pictures of Yukawa's beheading.
Video claims the Islamic State has executed one Japanese hostage and issued new ransom demands. Read more here.
Jordan, a member of the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, has faced some backlash from its citizens over its involvement in the conflict. While pressure is mounting for officials to bring home the captured pilot, the hostage situation presents a tough situation for the government, which has maintained a hardline approach to dealings with Islamist extremists.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields
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