Japan says working towards freeing hostage and Jordan pilot

TOKYO - Japan is working with Jordan to free both a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian pilot being held by Islamist extremists, officials said Tuesday, days after militants executed another hostage.

The self-styled Islamic State group apparently beheaded Japanese contractor Haruna Yukawa last week after a 72-hour deadline for a $200 million ransom passed without payment.

In a video released Saturday, the group said its demand had now changed and it wanted failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi released from death row in Jordan in exchange for the life of Kenji Goto, the remaining Japanese captive.

Jordan's King Abdullah pledged full cooperation with Japan to ensure Goto's release, during a meeting with Japanese deputy foreign minister Yasuhide Nakayama in Amman, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

However, Japanese media reported that Amman is likely to prioritise the release of their pilot.

Japan on Tuesday insisted that it was working to free both men.

"The release of the Jordanian pilot is an issue for Japan," Nakayama told reporters in Amman. "Both countries are closely cooperating towards the return of each of them to their countries."

Tokyo is likely to face resistance from Washington over any kind of swap.

Asked about recent developments, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a prisoner exchange was "in the same category" as paying a ransom.