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Why The Islamic State Wants Failed Suicide Bomber Sajida al-Rishawi in Exchange for Hostages

Sajida al-Rishawi has been imprisoned 10 years for her role in one of Jordan's deadliest suicide attacks, but the Islamic State now wants her set free.

by Liz Fields
Jan 28 2015, 7:23pm

Photo via Jordanian TV/APTN, AP

In a confession broadcast on Jordanian television 10 years ago, Sajida al-Rishawi spoke in hushed tones about her role in a suicide bombing plot on three separate hotels in Amman that killed 57 people and injured 90. Her face deadpan, she pulled back her coat to reveal a simulation of the suicide vest she duct-taped around her waist on the morning of November 9, 2005.

Had the scheme gone according to plan, the belt of explosives and ball bearings would have erupted into a wedding party in the ballroom of the Radisson hotel, where the then 35-year-old Iraqi woman and her husband — both linked to al Qaeda in Iraq — had planned their double attack.

"My husband detonated [his bomb] and I tried to explode my belt but it wouldn't," she said calmly on camera, wringing her hands. "People fled running and I left running with them."

Clips of Rishawi's confession resurfaced this week after officials announced the details of a possible prisoner swap between the Islamic State and the Jordanian government.

Although the 44-year-old Rishawi has been imprisoned in Jordan since 2005, long before the the Islamic State captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria, her family had close ties with al Qaeda leadership in Iraq, which eventually morphed into the Islamic State in Iraq.

Jordan tells Islamic State it will swap female suicide bomber for hostage pilot. Read more here.

Photo via Jordanian TV/APTN, AP

Two of Rishawi's brothers were killed battling American troops in Iraq Anbar's province bordering Jordan, the New York Times reported, while another brother served as a senior aide to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's Jordanian-born leader in Iraq. It was Zarqawi who ultimately ordered the attacks on Amman's Grand Hyatt, Days Inn, and Radisson in 2005, investigators revealed at the time.

Jordanian police later found the body of Rishawi's husband, 35-year-old Ali Hussein Shamari, as well as the remains of 23-year-olds Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, at the sites of the blasted hotels. All three were Iraqis from Anbar who travelled to Jordan days earlier on fake Iraqi passports, renting an apartment nearby where they dressed themselves in the suicide vests.

After her failed bombing attempt, Rishawi slipped away with a stampede of terrified wedding guests — all Jordanian and Palestinian — but was arrested days later when she returned to the safe house. Investigators at the time claimed the vest had failed to detonate because Rishawi had forgotten a "key" component of the explosive device in the car.

Islamic State releases Q&A 'interview' with captured Jordanian fighter pilot. Read more here.

On Tuesday, the Islamic State posted a video featuring Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who has been held since October, stipulating a 24-hour deadline for a hostage exchange and the return of Rishawi, the militants' "imprisoned sister."

The Jordanian government answered the proposal Wednesday by offering to release Rishawi in return for Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, who was captured when his plane was downed in December. The offer made no mention of Goto, and did not confirm whether an exchange would actually take place. The Islamic State has said the Jordanian and Japanese captives will both be executed after the deadline for Rishawi's release expires.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields

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