With new demand, Islamic State aims to break coalition's unity

Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama, third from left, in Amman on Jan. 21.

DUBAI - Islamic State militants are now demanding the release of a condemned prisoner in Jordan for the remaining Japanese hostage, a move likely intended to fracture the international coalition against the group.

The group had originally demanded in a Tuesday video that Japan pay US$200 million (S$269 million) in ransom for the two hostages. But on Saturday, after apparently killing one, it instead sought the release of a prisoner facing the death penalty in Jordan for her role in a deadly bombing.

Islamic State likely killed one hostage and kept the other alive to pressure Jordan and create rifts in the international coalition against the group, according to Mohamed Hamdan, a professor at the University of Jordan.

The international effort could weaken if the Middle Eastern country, which receives extensive financial support from Japan, caves in. The staunchly anti-terrorism US will likely pressure Jordan to hold on to the prisoner, the professor points out.

The militants have yet to issue a death threat for a Jordanian military pilot captured in December. They are combining a tough and moderate approach to grind the US ally down.

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