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IS Hostages' Fate Unknown as Deadline Expires


Jordan demanded proof that a pilot threatened with execution by the Islamic State group was still alive, as a deadline set by the jihadists in a proposed prisoner exchange expired Thursday.

As night fell in the region, there was no word on the fate of pilot Lieutenant Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh, and a fellow hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.

The IS group had threatened to kill al-Kaseasbeh unless Jordan released female Iraqi suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi by sunset Thursday and delivered her to the Turkish border.

Roughly an hour before the new deadline was due to pass at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), Jordan's government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said, "Rishawi is still in Jordan and the exchange will happen once we receive the proof of life that we asked for."

Momani made no specific mention of Goto. He later told reporters Jordan was coordinating with Japanese authorities on an effort to secure Goto's release.

"We want to see a proof of life of the Jordanian pilot and then we can talk about the exchange between Sajida Rishawi and the Jordanian pilot," Momani added.

On Friday morning, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said his country would ask Jordan for heightened protection of Japanese diplomats there, Reuters reported.

New recording

In a new recording posted online late Wednesday, a man identifying himself as Goto said al-Kaseasbeh would be killed "immediately" if Jordan did not bring convicted terrorist Rishawi to the Turkish border by the end of the day Thursday.

Authorities in Japan and Jordan were trying to verify the new recording.

However, the audio recording did not promise that either of the hostages would be released in exchange for Rishawi, an Iraqi woman convicted of participation in a 2005 terror attack that killed 60 people in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

In Tokyo, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Japan was doing its utmost to free Goto, working with nations in the region, including Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

"The situation is continuously changing and so in that sense we don't believe that the government should comment, but we can say that things between Japan and Jordan are moving in an atmosphere of trust," Suga said.

Polls have shown opposition in Jordan to the country's involvement in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militants.

Hostage crisis

The hostage crisis erupted after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while on a tour of the Middle East last week, announced $200 million in non-military aid for countries fighting the Islamic State militants.

Goto was captured by the Islamic State group last year while trying to rescue another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa. On Saturday, the Islamic State group released a video showing Goto holding pictures of Yukawa, apparently beheaded.

Pilot al-Kaseasbeh was captured in December after his plane crashed in Syrian territory held by the Islamic State group.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, has begged the government to save his son "at any price.” On Thursday, shortly after the deadline had passed, he appealed to his son’s captors for mercy.

Goto's wife, Rinko Jogo, released a statement to Reuters and other media shortly before the deadline on Thursday. In it, she urged the Japanese and Jordanian governments to work for her husband's release.

"I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left to secure his release and the life of (Jordanian air force pilot) Lieutenant Mu'ath al-Kasaesbeh," the statement read.

Hostage's wife speaks out

Jogo also revealed that she has exchanged several emails with his captors, and in the past 20 hours received one which appeared to be their final demand.

She said she has been "working tirelessly behind the scenes" for his release since his capture on Oct. 26, as he sought the release of Yukawa, who was seized in August.

"I have not spoken out until now as I have been trying to protect my children and family from the media attention Kenji's plight has created around the world," Jogo wrote. The couple have two young daughters.

Watch video report from VOA's Pam Dockins:

Prisoner Swap Would Give IS Leverage
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​Also, Japanese journalist Takaya Kazumi, who worked for Fuji TV, died in Turkey while covering the fate of a hostage being held by the Islamic State group.

Kazumi and her Turkish driver were killed when their car collided with a truck near the Turkish border crossing of Akcakale, where a possible prisoner exchange between Jordan and Islamic State militants is expected to take place.

The Associated Press reported that dozens of people had gathered at the border crossing ahead of the proposed prisoner swap.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.