Monday 20 November 2017

Isil hostage murder casts doubts on prisoner swap

Ruth Sherlock

THE Isil militants who murdered a kidnapped Japanese journalist over the weekend made no attempts at dialogue with his family in the days before they killed him.

The revelation raises doubts over whether the jihadi group ever intended to release Kenji Goto, despite claims that they were willing to use him for a prisoner swap.

In the past 10 days, Isil (the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) rapidly and erratically changed its demands for the release of Mr Goto (47), a respected Japanese journalist who was captured by the group in October.

This newspaper understands that Mr Goto's family had managed to make contact with the jihadis after the group demanded a €177m ransom two weeks ago for the journalist and for Haruna Yukawa, another Japanese hostage.

But without warning, the kidnappers had dropped the demand and changed tact, killing Mr Yukawa a week ago and tying Mr Goto's fate to a prisoner exchange with Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi al-Qaeda operative held in jail in Jordan for her role a series of hotel bombings in 2005.

The Japanese and Jordanian governments had scrambled to negotiate the terms of the swap. If the deal was not met, Isil said, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian air force pilot also held by the group, would be murdered.

In a bold manoeuvre, but which also complicated the terms of the deal, the Jordanian government then demanded that the pilot should be included in any prisoner exchange.

On Saturday night, however, the worst fears of Mr Goto's family appeared to have been realised, when without further explanation or email contact, Isil published a video online appearing to show Mr Goto's murder.

The footage, which the Japanese government believes is genuine, has prompted an outpouring of anger and grief in the country. Shinzo Abe, the country's prime minister, said Japan "would not give in to terrorism" and that he would expand his support to countries fighting Isil. Junko Ishido, Mr Goto's mother, who told reporters: "Kenji has died, and my heart is broken."

Mr Goto's wife Rinko said she was "devastated" at the news. "While feeling a great personal loss, I remain extremely proud of my husband who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria," she said.

Jordan renewed efforts to negotiate the release of Mr Kasasbeh yesterday, saying it was still open to a prisoner swap in exchange for Ms al-Rishawi. So far, though, there has been no response from Isil to the government's demand for proof that the pilot is still alive.

Nasser Judeh, Jordan's foreign minister, said the threats to kill Mr Kasasbeh would not stop the country's participation in the military coalition against Isil.

"We have said before, and we continue to say, that this is our fight," he said. "We are in this together for the long haul and we are as committed as ever."

Jordan yesterday renewed its offer to swap a convicted terrorist for the return of its air force pilot held captive by Isil, despite the apparent beheading of his fellow prisoner.

Mr Goto, the Japanese journalist whose purported death was shown in the latest video released by the group, had been detained with Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasaesbeh, but there was no word on the fate of the F-16 pilot in the footage.

Lt Kasaesbeh was captured in December after his fighter jet crashed in territory controlled by Isil. Since pictures were released of him surrounded by captors, there has been no proof that he is still alive. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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