Jordan Negotiating With ISIS Could Set A Dangerous Precedent

With hours to go before the execution deadline, Jordan is negotiating with ISIS by agreeing to free a convicted suicide bomber in exchange for Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian air force pilot who was captured by the group in Syria in December. The deal says nothing about ISIS's other hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, whose life is also being threatened. This is the first time a country has agreed to give ISIS what it has demanded.

In a recording purportedly made by ISIS posted online on Tuesday, Goto delivers the message that the group would release him in exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, a female suicide bomber who was captured by the Jordanian government in 2005. She was one of four suicide bombers who attacked three hotels in the capital city of Amman, but was arrested when her vest failed to detonate. If al-Rishawi is not released, then ISIS would kill both Goto and al-Kasasbeh. The message does not mention whether the Jordanian pilot would also be released as part of the exchange.

Al-Kasasbeh is the son of a prominent first lieutenant in Jordan, Youssef al-Kasasbeh, who appealed to King Abdullah II on Wednesday. The father said at a demonstration supporting his son on Wednesday:

Who is Sajida to us? Sajida is a burden on us, let them release her. I am asking for the release of Sajida and all the prisoners, and the return of Moaz to us. Keeping her in prison is a burden on us.

The hundreds of demonstrators also expressed outrage over the Jordanian government's involvement in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. Jordan is one of four Arab countries who are participating in the airstrike campaign in Syria. Pilot al-Kasasbeh, who was part of the campaign, is the first prisoner from the coalition to be taken by ISIS, and his capture brought the Jordanian people's anger to a boiling point.

Now opposition to Jordan's involvement in the coalition is reaching fever pitch, as Tuesday's video makes it appear that al-Kasasbeh is the less-important of the two hostages. Despite the ambiguity over whether the pilot would be released along with Goto in exchange for al-Rishawi, Jordan has gone ahead with the agreement.


It's been pointed out that undermining the importance of the Jordanian hostage was ISIS's way of manipulating the situation. A Jordanian official close to the situation told the New York Times that ISIS had deftly "put Jordan in an impossible position." If Jordan agrees to make the deal to release the Japanese pilot (without confirmation of al-Kasasbeh's fate), then it would further weaken support for Jordan's involvement in the coalition.

However, if they don't negotiate and both men die, support would weaken anyway. The official called it a "win-win for the Islamic State."

JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

If Jordan makes the deal for Goto's life and al-Kasasbeh is not released, there will surely be strong backlash among the people, warned Bassam al-Manaseer, head of the international affairs committee in the Jordanian Parliament.

What's more, this kind of negotiating with ISIS is a dangerous precedent to set more generally. It gives ISIS more incentive to keep capturing and threatening hostages. It also fortifies their image in the eyes of potential recruits and symbolically makes them appear untouchable.Images: Getty Images (3)