A deadline of sunset Thursday for a possible prisoner swap purportedly set by the Islamic State group holding a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian military pilot passed with no sign of whether the two men were still alive.
Japanese officials had no new progress to report Friday after a late night that ended with the Jordanian government saying it would only release an Al-Qaeda prisoner from death row if it got proof the airman was alive.
"There is nothing I can tell you," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters. He reiterated Japan's "strong trust" in the Jordanians to help save the Japanese hostage, freelance journalist Kenji Goto.
Suga said the government had been in close contact with Goto's wife, Rinko Jogo, who released a statement overnight pleading for her husband's life.
"I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left," Jogo said in a statement released through the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based organization for freelance journalists.
The proof-of-life request from the Jordanian government followed the release on Wednesday of an audio recording in which a voice identifying itself as Japanese freelance journalist Goto, who is also being held by ISIL, says that his captors will kill Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh unless Sajida al-Rishawi — an Iraqi inmate on death row in Jordan — was handed over by the end of the day.
"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-Kassasbeh will be killed immediately," Goto said in an unverified audio message distributed by ISIL-linked Twitter accounts. The message appeared to postpone a deadline set in an earlier message, in which ISIL made a similar threat to kill Goto unless Rishawi was freed.
ISIL's deadline for the swap appeared to have passed Thursday without any further information on Goto or Kassasbeh, who was captured last month after his fighter jet crashed in Syria. The negotiations between Jordan and ISIL over the pilot appeared to have collapsed, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing "a source in contact with Jordanian officials."
Jordan has offered, in principle, to swap Rishawi for the pilot, but ISIL has offered only to release Goto and spare the pilot’s life. ISIL has not yet indicated that it is willing to release Kassasbeh. The Jordanian government has so far made no mention of Goto in its disclosures about the negotiations.
Jogo made a desperate plea for her husband's life Thursday and revealed that she has exchanged emails with his captors. "In the past 20 hours, the kidnappers have sent me what appears to be their latest and final demand," she said, in her first public statement since her husband was abducted last week. Goto’s captors told her that if Rishawi was not released by the sunset deadline, "the Jordanian pilot will be executed immediately," Rinko Goto said. "I beg the Jordanian and Japanese government to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands," she wrote.
Rishawi was convicted of involvement in the 2005 bombings of three hotels in the Jordanian capital of Amman in an attack that killed 57 people.
"Jordan is ready to release the prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot is freed unharmed," state television quoted a government spokesman as saying on Wednesday. "From the start, the position of Jordan was to ensure the safety of our son, the pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh," the spokesman added. He did not mention the Japanese hostage.
The situation surrounding the pilot's capture and negotiations for his release have highlighted growing concern among Jordanians over the country's involvement in Western-led airstrikes against ISIL. Ahmad al-Saoub, 35, was among the Jordanians who say Jordan should not be involved, in a recent report from Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons. "Absolutely not our war,” Saoub told Al Jazeera. “ISIL has not attacked us at our home."
Al Jazeera and wire services. Andrew Simmons contributed reporting from Karak, Jordan.