Jordan vows to do 'everything' to save life of ISIS-held pilot, still ready for swap deal

Relatives of Islamic State captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh hold his poster as they take part in a rally in his support at the family's headquarters in the city of Karak  on Jan 31, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives of Islamic State captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh hold his poster as they take part in a rally in his support at the family's headquarters in the city of Karak  on Jan 31, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

AMMAN (AFP, Reuters) - Jordan vowed on Sunday to do all it could to save an airman held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the militants killed Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, including a swap deal involving a convicted Iraqi female extremist.

King Abdullah II said “all efforts in Jordan are being exploited to seek the release of the hero pilot Maaz Kassasbeh,” captured by ISIS after his plane crashed in Syria in December, a royal court statement said.

The king, who spoke by telephone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, denounced Goto’s murder, branding the killing a “cowardly, criminal act", and offered his condolences to his family.

Earlier government spokesman Mohammed al-Momeni pledged that Jordan would “do everything it can to save the life and secure the release” of Kassasbeh.

The spokesman later told Reuters Jordan’s security and military agencies were making constant checks to see whether the pilot, Muath al-Kasaesbeh, was still alive. “We are still ready to hand over the convict Sajida al-Rishawi in return for the return of our son and our hero,” Momeni added.

Kasaesbeh was captured in December after his F-16 fighter jet crashed on Dec 24 in territory controlled by the militants in Syria.

ISIS has been demanding the release of would-be Iraqi suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for Kasaesbeh’s life, a demand the Jordanian government has expressed readiness to accept provided it is given proof he is still alive.

ISIS had vowed to kill Kasaesbeh by sunset on Thursday unless Amman handed over the female extremist, who is on death row in Jordan, in return for Goto.

“Jordan has so far received no information that proves the pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh is safe and sound,” military spokesman Mamdoh al-Ameri told AFP.

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 government has been under heavy pressure at home and from Japan – a major aid donor – to save Kasaesbeh.Kasaesbeh’s father Safi has begged the authorities to save his son while many Jordanians have taken to social media to say the pilot’s life is more important than that of “terrorist” Rishawi.On Friday, the older Kasaesbeh told AFP that the family “did not receive any information yet about the fate of our son”.“We believe in God and we will accept whatever he has in store for us,” said Safi Kasaesbeh.While ISIS threatened Kasaesbeh’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 by nightfall.On Thursday, government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Rishawi was still in Jordan and would only be released if ISIS gave it “proof of life”.