TIME

New Deadline Approaches in ISIS Hostage Crisis

A poster showing ISIS-held Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, seen on a street pole in Amman, Jan. 29, 2015.
A poster showing ISIS-held Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, seen on a street pole in Amman, Jan. 29, 2015. Nasser Nasser—AP

The cases of the Japanese hostage, the Jordanian pilot and the Iraqi prisoner held in Jordan have become intertwined in recent days

(TOKYO) — A sunset deadline was approaching Thursday in the Middle East for Jordan to release an Iraqi prisoner or face the death of a captured Jordanian air force pilot, according to the latest threat purportedly issued by the Islamic State group.

The audio message was read in English by a voice the Japanese government said was likely that of Kenji Goto, a Japanese hostage also held by the militant group, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

It was released online after Jordan offered Wednesday to hand over the prisoner, an al-Qaida-linked would-be suicide bomber, in exchange for Jordanian air force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording, which was distributed on Twitter by Islamic State-affiliated accounts.

The cases of the Japanese hostage, the Jordanian pilot and the Iraqi prisoner held in Jordan have become intertwined in recent days. The prisoner is Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005.

The recording says the pilot will be killed if the prisoner is not presented at the Turkish border in exchange for Goto’s life by sunset. It’s not clear what would happen to Goto if the Iraqi woman is not returned by the deadline.

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

“As the situation is developing, I shouldn’t comment on details. But, Japan and Jordan are dealing with the matter based on an extremely trusting relationship,” Suga told reporters.

Efforts to free al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency after a purported online ultimatum claimed Tuesday that the Islamic State group would kill both hostages within 24 hours if Jordan did not free al-Rishawi.

Japan has scrambled to deal with the crisis that began last week with the release of a video by the Islamic State group showing Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, kneeling in orange jumpsuits between a masked man who threatened to kill them within 72 hours unless Japan paid a $200 million ransom.

That demand has since shifted to one for the release of al-Rishawi. The militants have reportedly killed Yukawa, 42, although that has not been confirmed.

“This heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament Thursday.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, who was taken hostage last summer.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, has been desperately pleading for the government to save her son.

“I know Mr. Abe is someone who can handle this matter. I trust Mr. Abe and I can do nothing but rely on him,” she said.

Releasing the would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would breach Jordan’s usual hard-line approach to the extremists and set a precedent for negotiating with them.

It would also be a coup for the Islamic State group, which has already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

The Islamic State group has not publicly demanded prisoner releases before and Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

Jordanian King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. The pilot’s father said he met on Wednesday with Jordan’s king, who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

The pilot’s capture has hardened popular opposition among Jordanians to the air strikes, analysts said

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages. In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot. He did not say if such an exchange is being arranged.

The 26-year-old pilot, al-Kaseasbeh, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

The Islamic State group broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

___

Laub reported from Amman, Jordan. Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, and Kaori Hitomi, Mari Yamaguchi, Emily Wang and Koji Ueda in Tokyo contributed to this report.

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Releases New Audio Message by Japanese Hostage

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Sajida al-Rishawi
An undated photograph of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, left, and a still image from video, right, of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people AP

The deadline has been extended

(BEIRUT) — ISIS released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to ISIS in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting ISIS’s demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of ISIS’s demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with ISIS militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Abe on Thursday did not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his condemnation of the ISIS hostage-taking.

“The heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament in response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto’s release. “I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

ISIS broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

TIME Jordan

Jordan Says It Will Release Suicide Bomber to ISIS in Return For Its Captive Pilot

Mother of ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh holds his picture during a demonstration demanding that the Jordanian government negotiate for the release of her son, in front of the prime minister's building in Amman, Jan. 27, 2015.
Mother of ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh holds his picture during a demonstration demanding that the Jordanian government negotiate for the release of her son, in front of the prime minister's building in Amman, Jan. 27, 2015. Muhammad Hamed—Reuters

ISIS asked for the release of bomber in return for Japanese hostage

Jordan’s information minister says his government is ready to swap an Iraqi woman held in Jordan for a Jordanian pilot captured in December by extremists from the Islamic State group.

Mohammed al-Momani made no mention in his statement Wednesday of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is also being held by the Islamic State group.

Al-Momani’s comments were carried by Jordan’s state Petra news agency.

The minister says that “Jordan is ready to release the Iraqi prisoner” if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed.

A purported message Tuesday threatened to kill both Goto and the pilot within 24 hours.

TIME Iraq

Japan’s Abe Calls Latest Hostage Deadline ‘Despicable’

PM Abe instructs ministers to work as one over hostage crisis
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with reporters on Jan. 28, 2015. Kyodo

Islamic State threatens to kill remaining Japanese hostage and a Jordanian pilot, which the Japanese PM calls "an extremely despicable act"

(TOKYO) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed outrage at the latest threat purportedly by Islamic State militants to kill a Japanese journalist, as secret talks in Jordan sought the release of the man and a Jordanian pilot also being held hostage.

The effort to free Japanese freelance reporter Kenji Goto and Jordanian Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh gained urgency with the release of an apparent ultimatum late Tuesday from the Islamic State group.

In the message, the extremists say the two hostages will be killed within 24 hours — late Wednesday night Japan time — unless Jordan frees Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people.

“This was an extremely despicable act and we feel strong indignation. We strongly condemn that,” Abe said. “While this is a tough situation, we remain unchanged in our stance of seeking help from the Jordanian government in securing the early release of Mr. Goto.”

A government spokesman, asked about the message, said there was no reason to believe the video was not authentic.

“I think the Jordanian government would respond on their own,” said Katsunobu Kato, a deputy chief cabinet secretary.

In Jordan, the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, beseeched the government “to meet the demands” of the Islamic State group.

“All people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan,” he told The Associated Press.

About 200 of the pilot’s relatives protested outside the prime minister’s office in the Jordanian capital of Amman, chanting anti-government slogans and urging that it meet the captors’ demands.

A member of Jordan’s parliament said the country was in indirect talks with the militants to secure the hostages’ release. Bassam Al-Manasseer, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, told Bloomberg News the negotiations are taking place through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding that Jordan and Japan won’t negotiate directly with IS and won’t free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto only.

A prisoner exchange would be contrary to the policy of Jordan’s main ally, the U.S., which opposes negotiating with extremists. Manaseer’s comments were the strongest suggestion yet that Japan and Jordan might be open to a prisoner exchange.

Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama was in Amman to coordinate hostage-release efforts with Jordan, but refused comment on details of the talks early Wednesday.

Goto’s mother expressed hope for his release, but also desperation.

“What has my child done wrong?” she said. “There’s no more time.”

The militants reportedly have beheaded one Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Although many in Japan are critical of the two men for going to Syria, Goto’s friends and supporters have launched a social media campaign calling for his release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has protested his plight, demanding his release.

In the group’s blog, Henry Tricks, a correspondent for The Economist who met Goto while working in Japan, said the independent journalist “covers wars with a difference.”

“Instead of focusing on who is winning or losing, he tells the stories of ordinary people, especially children, who are forced to endure conflict and the horrors surrounding them,” he writes.

Tuesday’s video resembled a message released over the weekend showing a still photo of Goto holding what appeared to be a photo of Yukawa’s body. It withdrew a demand for $200 million in ransom for Goto and Yukawa made in an earlier message.

The AP could not independently verify any of the videos, and the latter two lack the logo of the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm. But some militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group referenced the latest video and posted links to it Tuesday.

The latest message condemns Jordan for not releasing al-Rishawi, saying that unless she is freed within 24 hours, the pilot, followed by Goto, will be killed. It says it is the group’s last message.

“I have only 24 hours left to live and the pilot has even less,” says the audio, purportedly from Goto.

Messages from other Western hostages held by the group have been read by the captives on camera and it is unclear why the group released only a recording and still picture.

Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed near the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in December. He is the first foreign military pilot they have captured since a U.S.-led coalition that includes Jordan began its aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in August.

This is the first time that the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been released in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was caught in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State and would allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, said her family was told the Islamic State group also wants his release as part of a swap, but it is unclear if that was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.

Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.

TIME Japan

Japan Special Envoy Hopeful About Release of Hostage, Pilot

APTOPIX Japan Islamic State
A woman, along with other protesters, holds a placard and chant "Free Goto" during a rally outside the Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo on Jan. 27, 2015 Eugene Hoshiko—AP

Japan is coordinating with Jordan to secure the release of Japanese Kenji Goto and a Jordanian pilot

(TOKYO) — Delicate negotiations were underway Tuesday to secure the release of a Japanese hostage and a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic State militants, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced questions over his government’s handling of the crisis.

A Japanese envoy in the Jordanian capital, Amman, voiced hopes late Monday that both Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and the Jordanian pilot would be able to return home.

“I hope we can all firmly work hard and join hands to cooperate between the two countries (Japan and Jordan), in order for us to see the day when the Jordanian pilot and our Japanese national Mr. Goto can both safely return to their own countries with smiles on their faces,” said Yasuhide Nakayama, a deputy foreign minister and lawmaker who was sent to Amman to coordinate efforts to save two Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State group.

It was the first mention by a Japanese official of Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, who has been held by the extremist Islamic State group after crashing in December. It was unclear when the pilot’s possible release became part of the discussion, and reports in Jordan said some officials thought the militants may be aiming at the release of other prisoners.

But the issue of a prisoner swap is sensitive, given Jordanian concern over the pilot, and Nakayama had no fresh news when he emerged from the Japanese Embassy on Tuesday.

“There are other parties involved, so I don’t want to comment on details of the negotiations,” he said.

Goto, a journalist, was seized in late October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, an adventurer who was captured by the militants last summer.

Over the weekend, an unverified video surfaced showing a still photo of Goto, 47, holding what appears to be a photo of Yukawa’s body. It included a recording of a voice claiming to be Goto, saying his captors wanted the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for involvement in a suicide bombing that killed 60 people.

The message retracted a demand for payment of $200 million in ransom for the two Japanese, made in an earlier online message, and said Yukawa had been killed. It threatened to kill Goto unless al-Rishawi was released.

Japanese officials are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa was killed. However, the new message varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group, and The Associated Press could not verify its contents and whether they actually reflect the group’s demands.

The Japanese side has avoided direct references to al-Rishawi and a possible prisoner swap, while emphasizing its hopes for cooperation from Jordan and longstanding ties with its government and its royal family.

Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a propaganda coup for the Islamic State, enabling the group to reaffirm links to al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Rishawi fled but was captured after her explosive belt failed to detonate in the attack in Jordan. She pleaded not guilty.

The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, told AP on Tuesday that her family was told that the Islamic State group was also seeking his release as part of a swap. It was unclear whether it was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.

Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, an interfaith gathering of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians holding placards and banners reading, “Free Goto” and “I am Kenji,” gathered outside the parliament.

“Islam is not about someone calling himself Muslim and committing the crime of killing. This is not Islam,” said Muhammad Yusuf Othman, a Muslim teacher.

In Japan, some are critical of Goto and Yukawa for traveling to the risky area.

“It’s not that they were in Japan living peacefully and were kidnapped out of the blue. They decided to go to Syria and were seized by the militants,” said Kenji Arai, 46, an accountant.

“Do you think taxpayers would agree that they should save the hostages’ lives?” he said.

Some also are unhappy that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking a more active role in Middle East affairs.

In parliamentary debate, lawmaker Seiji Maehara of the opposition Democratic Party questioned Abe on how the government has handled the hostages’ cases since Yukawa was seized in August.

He noted Abe’s explicit mention of the Islamic State in an announcement of $200 million in humanitarian aid to the nations fighting the extremists — a move mentioned in the videos issued by the militants.

Japan has no military role in the conflict, but Abe has been pushing to expand the role for Japan’s troops — one that has remained strictly confined to self-defense under the pacifist constitution adopted after the nation’s defeat in World War II.

Abe defended his performance. Japan’s aid is “providing food and medicine to save the lives of more than 10 million people, including refugees and children who have lost their homes, shivering in cold and suffering from illnesses,” he said.

“If we fear the risks so much that we succumb to the terrorists’ threats, we won’t be able to make any humanitarian contributions to countries surrounding the area of conflict,” Abe said. “Our country will never bow to terrorists. We will continue our humanitarian support in our own unique way.”

Abe has pointed to the hostage crisis as a reason for Japan to improve its defense.

Japan relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil and gas, but its diplomatic pipeline in the region is thin, experts say.

“When it comes to Islamic affairs and Islamic law, the government’s expertise and connections are extremely weak,” said Ko Nakata, a Muslim convert and former Islamic expert at the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia. Last week, he offered to try to help secure the hostages’ release but there was no public response from the government.

Abe’s envoy Nakayama, 44, is a sports science graduate and former advertising agency employee who studied in the United States and France. He has scant experience in Middle East affairs, though he has served as deputy foreign minister several times and has joined defense and national security panels.

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Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Ken Moritsugu, Kaori Hitomi, Koji Ueda and Emily Wang in Tokyo contributed to this report.

TIME Military

Jordanian Pilot Captured by ISIS Militants

Jordan pilot captured
A still image released by the Islamic State on Dec. 24, 2014 purportedly shows a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS fighters after they shot down a warplane from the US-led coalition with an anti-aircraft missile near Raqqa city. EPA

First allied troop captured in the four-month war against militants

The second-worst fear of U.S. commanders came true Wednesday, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria captured a Jordanian pilot attacking ISIS targets in northeastern Syria.

It could only have been worse, from the U.S. perspective, if the pilot had been American, falling into a barbarous enemy’s hands on Christmas Eve. It marked the first capture of an allied fighter in the four-month war against ISIS.

Jordan acknowledged their pilot had been captured near ISIS’s self-declared capital city of Raqqa. “Jordan holds the group (IS) and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life,” a statement from the Jordanian army read on state television said. It did not specify whether the plane had crashed or been shot down, as ISIS has claimed.

The family of pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh publicly sought his release. “Please send him back to us,” his brother, Jawad, told CNN. “He is just a soldier who is following orders and has no authority.”

ISIS posted two photographs allegedly showing the capture. In one, a man labeled as the pilot is seen being pulled by militants from a lake, soaking wet and clad only in a white shirt. A second shows him surrounded by militants, some of them masked.

“A Jordanian F-16 aircraft crashed in the vicinity of the northern Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah on Wednesday and the pilot has been taken captive by ISIL forces,” U.S. Central Command said several hours after the plane went down. “Evidence clearly indicates that [ISIS] did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming.”

An earlier statement issued by the allies said that an air strike had been conducted against a “weapons stockpile” near Raqqa. “All aircraft returned to base safely,” it added. Twenty-two minutes later it issued what it called a “corrected” statement with that sentence gone.

READ MORE The First Western Journalist to Interview ISIS Is Home With a Terrifying Message

The chance of a pilot being shot down and captured has been a major concern of U.S. war planners. That’s why the Army’s AH-64 Apache helicopters—flying low and slow—haven’t seen much action. High-and-fast flying fixed-wing aircraft are much less vulnerable to ground fire.

But even the world’s best warplanes can be shot down with what pilots call a “golden BB” that hits the plane in the right spot. F-16 and F-117 fighters were shot down over Yugoslavia in Balkan wars of the 1990s. Both pilots were rescued. An RPG downed a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan in 2011, killing all 38 aboard, including 25 SEALs and other special-ops troops.

Repeated flights over those trying to shoot you down increase the chances those shooting from the ground will eventually succeed. Since the U.S. and its allies began stepped-up bombing runs against ISIS targets Sept. 23, they have flown 10,000 sorties. About one of every four has been a non-U.S. flight.

As of Dec. 15, the 11 allies flying such missions have accounted for 14% of 1,287 air-strike missions, the most dangerous kind. In addition to the U.S., allies attacking targets in Iraq are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have joined the U.S. in bombing runs against targets inside Syria.

READ MORE ISIS’s Harrowing Sexual Violence Toward Yezidi Women Revealed

al-Kasasbeh’s fate is grim. The jihadist group holding him has beheaded non-military Westerners for simply being Westerners. Pentagon officials fear he could be used for propaganda purposes, as several of the murdered Westerners were. If the allies claim he is a prisoner of war—and needs to be treated humanely, under the Geneva Accords—that suggests they recognize ISIS as a legitimate state, something they don’t want to do.

The pilot’s Facebook page was filling up with prayers from friends shortly after news broke of the shoot down. U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of Centcom, said the U.S. would “support efforts to ensure his safe recovery, and will not tolerate [ISIS’s] attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

It’s a safe bet the U.S. will do all it can to help Jordan rescue him, although such missions have only a slim chance of success.

The topic came up at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September. “Will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue if a pilot gets shot down, and will they put boots on the ground to make that rescue successful?” Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey’s answer: “Yes.”

Inhofe was referring to a U.S. pilot, but that caveat seems moot now.

TIME Jordan

Jordan Hangs 11 Men After 8-Year Execution Ban Ends

Since the 2006 ban, 122 people have been sentenced to death

Eleven men were hanged in Jordan on Sunday, bringing the country’s eight-year moratorium on executions to an end.

The 11 criminals, all Jordanian, had been charged in different murder cases in 2005 and 2006, Al Jazeera reported. The country’s last executions had taken place in June 2006, and since then 122 people have been sentenced to death, though none of the sentences had been carried out until Sunday.

Interior Minister Hussein Majali had stated recently that the execution ban might end, citing a “major debate” in the country on whether to reinstitute the death penalty. According to Majali, the public believed that Jordan’s rising crime was a result of the death penalty’s absence.

Several countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, allow the death penalty. China had executed thousands of people last year, more than any country, according to an estimate by Amnesty International. And capital punishment remains legal in many states in the U.S.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Jordan

Radical Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada Cleared of Terrorism Charges in Jordan

Abu Qatada
Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada sits behind bars at the Jordanian military court in Amman, Jordan, on June 26, 2014 Raad Adayleh—AP

The British Home Office insists the 53-year-old is “not coming back to the U.K.”

Radical Islamic preacher Abu Qatada has been acquitted of terrorism charges by a Jordanian court. He was deported to the Middle Eastern kingdom from the U.K. in 2013.

On Wednesday, a court in the capital Amman found him not guilty of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on Western and Israeli targets in Jordan during millennium New Year celebrations, reports the BBC.

He was accused of providing “spiritual support” through his writings to those alleged to have plotted the attacks.

In June, the 53-year-old cleric was also cleared of a conspiracy to attack an American school in Amman.

Abu Qatada had been involved in a decadelong legal battle in the U.K. Government ministers repeatedly tried to deport him to Jordan so he could face the charges in his home country, but judges were concerned he could face torture if repatriated.

After the U.K. and Jordan signed a deal in 2013 stating evidence gathered against Abu Qatada obtained by British deportees in Jordan could not be used, British Home Secretary Theresa May secured his deportation.

“It is right that the due process of law has taken place in Jordan,” a spokesperson for the Home Office told the BBC.

In 1994, Abu Qatada was granted asylum in the U.K. but officials quickly saw him as a security threat.

British judges called him a “truly dangerous individual … at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda,” reports the BBC.

[BBC]

TIME Syria

Report Details Hardships Facing Syria’s Refugee Mothers

Syrian Refugees; Lebanon; North Lebanon; refugees
Sanaa, 26, washes clothes in a borrowed washing machine at a shelter in Saida, Lebanon, on March 4, 2014. Lynsey Addario—UNHCR

Some 145,000 refugee households are headed by women

A new U.N. report grimly details the daily plight of thousands of Syrian refugee mothers who have fled civil war and now toil as their household’s primary breadwinner.

Four-fifths of the 2.8 million Syrians who have fled their war-torn homeland since March 2011 are women and children, says the U.N., leading to some 145,000 refugee households headed solely by women. The survey, based on three months of interviews with 135 women in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, provides a snapshot of the complexities they endure while trying to feed and protect their children, find enough work to make rent and retain any semblance of the lives they enjoyed before war broke out.

They represent women who once managed their homes, even as their husbands usually handled physical and financial security, but who now lead households in unfamiliar and often insecure communities. Lebanon, a nation of 4 million, has taken in more than a million people. At least 600,000 have entered Jordan, with most gravitating toward urban areas, an influx that has crushed certain infrastructure. In addition, some 137,000 have made it to Egypt.

António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said “escaping their ruined homeland was only the first step in a journey of grinding hardship” and called their treatment “shameful” as the crisis worsens. “They have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety and are being treated as outcasts,” he added, “for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war.”

Typically, their first challenge was simply finding a roof. Many make do with overcrowded or makeshift housing, due to few options and difficulties in securing a stable and sufficient income. Only one-fifth of those interviewed had paid work, and many others said they relied on cash assistance from aid groups or generosity from others in their community.

Paying rent is among their top stressors, as is feeding loved ones. With an average of 5.6 people per household, some mothers said their families ate less as a whole or individuals held back so others could eat more. “Rent is more important than food,” one woman who lived with her seven children in Amman told the U.N. “We don’t remember what meat or fruit tastes like,” echoed another, who kept a home of nine people in Giza, Egypt.

The vast majority of women interviewed relied on food vouchers from the U.N. World Food Programme, but very few complained that their households were going hungry.

Among a number of other issues reported were an inability to afford proper medical care, regular instances of verbal harassment and even offers of free accommodation in exchange for sexual favors. A significant portion said they left their homes much less often than they did in Syria.

The U.N. expects these problems to worsen, as it estimates the total number of Syrian refugees will reach 3.6 million by year’s end, unless aid agencies, donors and host governments renew their commitments of support.

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