AN audio message, purportedly from Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, said a Jordanian air force pilot held by Islamic State militants would be killed unless an Iraqi female prisoner held by the Jordanian authorities was released by sunset last night.
The message was posted on YouTube early yesterday. The Japanese government is analysing the purported new voice recording, a spokesman for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office said.
"I am Kenji Goto. This is a voice message I've been told to send to you.
"If Sajida al-Rishawi is not ready for exchange for my life at the Turkish border by Thursday, sunset 29th of January Mosul time, the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasaesbeh will be killed immediately," the voice in the recording says.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's government spokesman, said the government was analysing the latest message and that it was working with Turkey, Jordan and Israel to help secure Mr Goto's release.
The Jordanian government said it would release Rishawi in exchange for Lt Moaz al-Kasaesbeh, who was shot down over Syria as he took part in coalition operations against Islamic State in December. Both the Jordanian and Japanese governments have come under domestic pressure to comply with the jihadis' demands.
Rishawi is a high-profile terrorist who took part in a mass suicide bombing in the Jordanian capital Amman, in 2005, which killed 60 people, including three attackers. Her own suicide belt failed to detonate.
"Jordan is ready to release prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot Lt Moaz al-Kasaesbeh is released and his life spared," Mohammed al-Momani, the information minister, said.
The Japanese government refused to comment on the delay.
"We hope that the two countries can join hands to realise a future in which the Jordanian pilot and Mr Goto return safely to their countries with smiles," said Yasuhide Nakayama, the deputy foreign minister, who flew to Amman to take charge of negotiations for the Japanese government.
Isil's original request for an exchange of Rishawi for Mr Goto was rejected by Jordan, whose demand that Lt Kasaesbeh be included was in turn rejected by Isil.
Further negotiations ensued, leading to yesterday's statement. One reason for the delay may be a Jordanian government demand for "proof of life" for Lt Kasaesbeh, which Nasser Judeh, the Jordanian foreign minister, said had not yet been forthcoming.
The prisoner exchange would also be complex, with some local journalists saying that Rishawi would be released to tribal leaders in Anbar, the province of Iraq directly neighbouring Jordan which is largely Isil-controlled.
Lt Kasaesbeh and Mr Goto would be more likely to be released through the Turkish border, just two hours' drive north of Raqqa, the effective capital of Isil territory in Syria, where the group has held its prisoners.
The wife of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto has made her first public appeal for her husband's life.
Rinko Jogo also revealed that she has exchanged several emails with his captors.
She urged the Japanese and Jordanian governments to finalise a deal in which an al-Qa'ida prisoner on death row in Jordan would be released in exchange for their lives.
"I beg the Jordanian and Japanese governments to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands," she said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)