Who is Sajida al-Rishawi, the woman ISIS wants in exchange for Japanese hostage Kenji Goto?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is reportedly demanding the release of an Al-Qaeda-linked attempted female suicide bomber, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for its hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. 

Rishawi, who is in her 40s, was arrested in 2005 shortly after she tried, but failed, to blow herself up as part of a string of hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, that killed at least 57 people, reported The New York Times

The Iraqi woman had travelled to the Jordanian capital with her husband Hussein Ali al-Shamari, also an Iraqi, using forged passports five days before the attacks. 

Rishawi and her husband targeted a wedding in a hotel ballroom. After Shamari noticed that his wife was having trouble detonating her explosives, he pushed her out of the room. He then blew himself up, killing 38 people, reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Rishawi fled the scene but was captured by the authorities shortly after. 

She appeared in a dramatic televised confession in November 2005 wearing the bombs that she had planned to set off. According to CNN, Rishawi said on air that her husband planned the attack and taught her how to use the explosive belt. 

Rishawi was also identified as the sister of the slain militant Mubarak al-Rishawi, who was the right-hand man of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, reported Haaretz

In a new recording, which was released on YouTube late on Saturday before being deleted, it showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt with audio of what appeared to be him making a statement in English.

In the apparent recording, Goto says his fellow captive Haruna Yukawa was “slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate.”

But the journalist said the government of Japan could save him by working through Jordan where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set up an office last week to coordinate the government’s response to the hostage situation.

Goto says the militants would release him in exchange for the release of Rishawi. He says the militants have dropped the earlier demand of a ransom of US$200 million.

“I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life,” the recording says. “You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her.”

ziliang@sph.com.sg