The parents of a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian airman held by Islamic State militants made last-ditch pleas for their lives as a deadline for an exchange with a jihadi bomber neared Wednesday.
Safi Kassasbeh begged the Jordanian government to save his pilot son’s “at any price”, while the mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto urged Tokyo to “please save Kenji’s life”.
The deadline was set by the Islamic State group in a chilling video demanding Jordan release Sajida al-Rishawi, a would-be suicide bomber who has been on death row there since 2006.
The video, which appeared on the Internet around 1400 GMT on Tuesday, said Goto and Jordanian airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh would be executed if Rishawi was not released within 24 hours.
But with the clock ticking towards the presumed deadline, Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who is leading Tokyo’s emergency response team in Amman, said there had been no news.
“At this moment, I have no fresh information,” he told reporters.
Asked if the government knew whether Goto was still alive, he said: “We are collecting information from a variety of channels.
“This is also an ongoing matter. I refrain from confirming any details.”
An angry Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier blasted the militants’ 24-hour deadline.
“This was an utterly despicable act, and I am appalled,” Abe told reporters. “I have instructed all ministers to work together for the early release of Mr Kenji Goto.”
“The government, in this extremely serious situation, has been asking for the Jordanian government’s cooperation towards the early release of Mr Goto, and this policy remains unchanged,” he told ministers.
Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, was at parliament Wednesday in a failed bid to meet with Abe. After being refused an appointment with the premier, she issued a plea for her son’s life through assembled media.
“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” Ishido said. “Please continue your utmost efforts in negotiating with the Jordanian government until the last minute. There is not much time left.”
Her anguish as a parent over the fate of her son was mirrored half a world away in Jordan, where Kassasbeh’s father and several dozen members of the family’s Karak tribe held a demonstration outside government headquarters in Amman late Tuesday.
– Respected war reporter –
They held his picture and a slogan reading: “We are all Maaz.”
“We have only one request, Maaz’s return at any price,” Kassasbeh senior was quoted by local media as saying.
“The authorities have been reassuring, saying they have had contacts about the release of our son,” he said, adding: “We have heard nothing from them after the latest video.”
Tokyo has thrown itself on Jordan’s mercy since a video emerged at the weekend in which the extremist group announced it had murdered Haruna Yukawa, a self-employed contractor it had kidnapped in August.
After initially setting a $200 million ransom for the release of Yukawa and Goto, the IS group, which rules swathes of Syria and Iraq with a extreme form of Islam, changed tack and demanded Jordan free Rishawi.
Analysts said the shifting demands were an attempt to divide close allies of the US-led fight against extremism in the Middle East.
They say the IS group is forcing Jordan, a moderate Muslim country, into the position of trying to balance strong domestic pressure to bring its airman home with wariness of harming its important relationship with deep-pocketed Japan.
Kassasbeh was captured by IS on December 24 after his F-16 jet crashed while on a mission against the jihadists over northern Syria.
In the latest video, Goto, a respected war reporter, is seen holding a photograph of Kassasbeh, while a voiceover, purportedly spoken by the Japanese hostage, warns that Jordan is blocking his release.
The narrator says both captives will be killed within 24 hours if Rishawi is not freed, and urges the Japanese government to put pressure on Jordan.
However, any suggestion of a swap will likely face resistance from the US.
Asked about recent developments, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week a prisoner exchange was “in the same category” as paying a ransom.
Rishawi, who is Iraqi, was sentenced to death by a Jordanian court in September 2006 for her part in triple hotel bombings in Amman the previous year that killed 60 people, mainly Jordanians.
The IS group has previously beheaded two US reporters, an American aid worker and two British aid workers, and committed numerous atrocities including mass executions, but the killing of Yukawa was the first time a Japanese national has been targeted.