Japan says hostage negotiation with ISIS in deadlock: Report

Demonstrators staging a rally to demand the release of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who was kidnapped by ISIS, in front of the prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo on Jan 30, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Demonstrators staging a rally to demand the release of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who was kidnapped by ISIS, in front of the prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo on Jan 30, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's deputy foreign minister has said negotiation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatening to execute a Jordanian pilot and a Japanese journalist has become "deadlocked," local media reported on Saturday.

Mr Yasuhide Nakayama, who is leading Tokyo's emergency response team in Amman, told reporters in the Jordanian capital late Friday that there had been no progress in trying to secure the release of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and Jordanian airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh.

"It has become deadlocked," he said, according to Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

"Staying vigilant, we will continue analysing and examining information as the government is making concerted efforts together."

In Tokyo, deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko, a key aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said on Saturday morning that the government was still waiting for new information on the hostage crisis.

ISIS had vowed to kill Kassasbeh by sunset on Thursday unless Amman hands over an Iraqi female militant in return for Mr Goto.

Jordan has demanded evidence that the pilot, who crashed his plane in Syria on Dec 24, is still alive before freeing would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, who is on death row.

Jordan has offered to free Rishawi, who was convicted for her part in triple-hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people, if ISIS releases the pilot.

The Jordanian government has been under heavy pressure at home and from Japan - a major aid donor - to save Mr Kassasbeh as well as Mr Goto.

While ISIS threatened Kassasbeh's life, it was not clear from its latest message if the militant group was ready to free him as part of an exchange.

ISIS had set the Thursday sunset deadline for Rishawi to be released at the Turkish border in return for Mr Goto but there was no news of a swap.

Japan, which plays no military part in the fight against ISIS, was thrust onto the front line last week when a video appeared in which Mr Goto and Mr Haruna Yukawa, a self-described contractor, were seen kneeling in the desert.

A masked, knife-wielding militant said Tokyo had 72 hours to pay a US$200 million (S$270 million) ransom if it wanted to spare their lives.

When that deadline expired, new pictures appeared to show Mr Yukawa had been beheaded, and a voice identifying itself as Mr Goto demanded the release of Rishawi.