AMMAN, Jordan >> In the hostage crisis unfolding in Jordan, the country’s so-far steadfast support for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State may yet become collateral damage.
Popular anger over Jordan’s role in the coalition bombing campaign in Syria burst into the open in recent days when it appeared that the fate of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot was taking a back seat to that of a Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, also being held hostage by the militants.
When a video that appeared to be of Goto surfaced online Tuesday, he was shown holding a photograph of the Jordanian pilot. Goto said they would both be killed by the Islamic State militants Wednesday if Jordan did not give in to their demand to release an attempted suicide bomber from prison.
The extremists seemed to be offering Goto his freedom in the deal, while all they were offering the pilot, 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, was his life, if that.
"I only have 24 hours left to live, and the pilot has even less," Goto said in the videotape posted on Islamic State-linked Twitter accounts, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks jihadi propaganda. "Any more delays by the Jordanian government will mean they’re responsible for the death of their pilot, which will then be followed by mine."
A terse Jordanian military communiqu? noted that the Islamic State was not offering the pilot’s freedom, "despite the fact they are threatening to kill both hostages together."
The deadline of the latest threat was due to expire Wednesday afternoon, Jordanian time.
There was no official confirmation that the video released Tuesday was from the Islamic State, but its format resembled a video released of Goto over the weekend that the militants later confirmed was theirs. That video announced the death of another Japanese hostage.
Kasasbeh became the first coalition soldier to be taken prisoner by the Islamic State and, if killed, would be the first coalition fighter to have his life taken in the international intervention, which began with a bombing campaign in August. Three U.S. soldiers have died from accidents and nonhostile causes, none of them in Syria.
Many Jordanians have started saying that the fight with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, should not have concerned them in the first place. "This is not our war against ISIS," said Hind al-Fayez, a member of parliament. She added that if Kasasbeh "was an Israeli soldier or an American, everyone would be talking about his release, but he’s not."
The fate of the 26-year-old pilot had transfixed Jordan even before it was linked to that of Goto. Handsome and personable, Kasasbeh was well-regarded by the U.S. military members who worked with him. He comes from a powerful tribe in the city of Karak, raising the domestic political risks in the case.
Abdullah visited Kasasbeh’s family the day after his plane went down in late December. The militants later disseminated humiliating pictures of the lieutenant, naked from the waist down, that caused widespread anger in Jordan.
A cloak of secrecy dropped over the case in Jordan, but his family said it had been expecting Kasasbeh to be released in exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 for her role in an attack on Amman hotels in 2005 that killed more than 57 people and is known locally as Jordan’s 9/11. (While three co-conspirators died, including Rishawi’s husband, her explosive vest failed to detonate.)
But last week, the extremists changed their demands for Goto’s release, saying he could go free in exchange for Rishawi — but making no mention of Kasasbeh.
"That’s exactly what they wanted to do, put Jordan in an impossible position," said a well-connected Jordanian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because officials have been banned from commenting on the case publicly. Making the deal to release the Japanese journalist would undermine popular support in Jordan for the war against the Islamic State. Not making it would probably cost both men’s lives and also hurt support. "It’s a win-win for the Islamic State," the official said.
Complicating matters, Japan is one of Jordan’s biggest aid donors and has promised $150 million to help the huge number of Syrian refugees in the country.
Bassam al-Manaseer, head of the international affairs committee in parliament, said the war against the Islamic State was not Jordan’s and warned of a strong backlash if the country made any deal for the Japanese hostage’s freedom that did not include the release of Kasasbeh. Like many Jordanians, Manaseer did not challenge the idea of making a swap that gave Rishawi her freedom so long as the pilot was set free.