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Jordan still awaiting proof pilot held by IS safe

A day after IS deadline passes for the release a Jordanian pilot, Iraqi woman to be exchanged for his life still in Jordan, say officials
Members of the Kassasbeh family talk to reporters in Amman on Thursday (AA)

Jordan's military said on Friday that it was still awaiting proof that a warplane pilot threatened with execution by the Islamic State group is safe.

IS had vowed to kill F-16 airman Mu'ath al-Kassasbeh by sunset on Thursday unless Amman handed over an Iraqi woman linked to a 2005 al-Qaeda in Iraq attack in Amman in return for captured Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto.

Jordan has demanded evidence that the 26-year-old pilot, a recent newlywed, who crashed in Syria on 24 December is still alive before freeing would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi who is on death row.

"Jordan has so far received no information that proves the pilot Mu'ath al-Kassasbeh is safe and sound," military spokesman Mamdoh al-Ameri told AFP.

Jordan has offered to free Rishawi, who was convicted in 2006 for her part in triple-hotel bombings in Amman that killed 60 people, if IS releases the pilot.

The government has been under heavy pressure at home and from Japan - a major aid donor - to save Kassasbeh as well as Goto.

Many Jordanians have taken to social media to say the pilot's life is more important than that of "terrorist" Rishawi while Kassasbeh's father, Safi, has begged authorities to save his son.

The sons of the Kassasbeh family, one of the largest and influential tribes in Jordan, have a strong tradition of serving in Jordan's military.

Earlier this week, the pilot father, Safi al-Kassasbeh, told National Public Radio that he strongly condemned Jordan's participation in the US-led coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria.

His son, said the retired education professor, should never have been bombing Syria in the first place.

"I wasn't OK with it at all," he told NPR from his hometown, two hours south of Amman. 

On Friday, Kassasbeh told AFP that the family "did not receive any information yet about the fate of our son".

"We believe in God and we will accept whatever he has in store for us," said Safi Kassasbeh.

Sunset deadline passes

While IS threatened Kassasbeh's life, it was not clear from its latest message if the militant group was ready to free him as part of an exchange.

IS had set the Thursday sunset deadline for Rishawi to be released at the Turkish border in return for Goto, but there was no news of a swap by nightfall.

On Thursday, government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Rishawi was still in Jordan and would only be released if IS gave it "proof of life".

He made no mention of Goto, whose wife, Rinko, broke her silence with an emotional appeal to Tokyo and Amman to save her husband.

"My husband is a good and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who suffer," she said. "I beg the Jordanian and Japanese governments to understand that the fates of both men are in their hands."

Japan, which plays no military part in the fight against IS, was thrust onto the front line last week when a video appeared in which Goto and Haruna Yukawa, a self-described contractor, were seen kneeling in the desert.

A masked, knife-wielding militant said Tokyo had 72 hours to pay a $200 million ransom if it wanted to spare their lives.

When that deadline expired, new pictures appeared to show Yukawa had been beheaded, and a voice identifying itself as Goto demanded the release of Rishawi.

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