AMMAN - The fates of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and Jordanian Air Force pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh remain unknown after a deadline purportedly set by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for the release of would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto passed at sunset Thursday.
Rishawi is on death row in Jordan, and the Jordanian government is demanding proof from ISIL that Kasaesbeh, the 26-year-old pilot taken captive by the militant group, is still alive as a condition for Rishawi's release. However, ISIL has reportedly not met that demand.
The negotiations will move to the next stage if it can be confirmed the pilot is alive, Jordanian Media Affairs and Communications Minister Mohammed al-Momani said about one hour before the deadline.
In the latest voice message uploaded at about 8 a.m. on Thursday, Japan time, ISIL said if Rishawi was not ready for exchange for Goto at the Turkish border by Thursday at sunset, the pilot would be killed immediately.
Momani apparently indicated that a successful exchange of Rishawi and Goto, a 47-year-old freelance journalist taken hostage by the militant group believed to be ISIL, depends on ISIL's next move. However, no such step by ISIL has been confirmed.
Jordan has not received anything that proves that the pilot is still alive, a Jordanian government official told The Yomiuri Shimbun on Thursday night.
Calls are growing in Jordan for Kasaesbeh's release. Failure to ensure the safe return of the pilot could result in a strong backlash from the public against the Jordanian government.
"The people should be more calm," a Jordanian senator said on a state-run TV on Thursday.
Friday is King Abdullah II's 53rd birthday. ISIL sees the Jordanian monarchy as its enemy, and has been playing a calculated mind game in the hostage incident to deal a blow to that country's government. Observers said ISIL may make a new move on the king's birthday.
Focus on next moves
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the government is doing everything it can to have Goto freed.
"We are doing our utmost for Goto's release by collecting information, analysing it and cooperating with the Jordanian government and others," Abe said at the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Friday morning.
The government continued to make all-out efforts to collect information related to the negotiations between the Jordanian government and ISIL after the deadline expired late Thursday night Japan time.
Abe instructed Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to continue to deal with the matter seriously, as the situation is changing.
"I think the negotiations [between the Jordanian government and ISIL] are still going on," a high-ranking government official said. "The focus now is on what ISIL does next."