The Jordanian government is reportedly engaged in indirect talks with the Islamic State for the release of the air force pilot the jihadist group captured last month over Raqqa, IS’s de facto capital in Syria.
A Jordanian source told Israel Radio Saturday that the government is speaking to the group through two mediators, one Turkish, one Iraqi.
Jordan has reportedly appealed to Turkey several times for help in securing the release of 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh. Turkey negotiated a release with the group last year for 46 Turkish nationals held captive by the group, the details of which have largely been held under wraps.
The terror group may be interested in the deal that would potentially free a number of Salafists (adherents of a strict, literal form of Islam to which IS subscribes) held in Jordanian prisons
Earlier this month, Turkish media reported that an attempted rescue of the Jordanian pilot was thwarted after terrorists from the Islamic State unleashed heavy fire on commando helicopters that were trying to land near a home believed to be housing the prisoner.
According to unconfirmed reports in the media, American special forces led the rescue effort, along with fighters from allied countries in the fight against IS. The Telegraph cited local activists saying that military helicopters attempted a nighttime raid on Raqqa.
Syrian rebel sources cited in the reports say American fighter jets carried out diversionary airstrikes on IS targets in Raqqa, while two helicopters attempted a landing near a private house in the city where it was believed Kaseasbeh was being held.
IS fighters responded with heavy fire, reportedly thwarting the landing.
Shortly after Kaseasbeh capture last month, the Islamic State published an interview with the Jordanian pilot in which he says he knows that he will likely be killed.
The 26-year-old Jordanian is the first foreign military pilot to fall into the extremists’ hands since an international coalition began its aerial campaign against IS in September.
In a short Q&A segment in the extremist group’s monthly English-language magazine posted online, al-Kaseasbeh said his fighter jet was shot down by a heat-seeking missile near Raqqa, which is located on the banks of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.
Al-Kaseasbeh said he ejected from the aircraft and landed in the river, where he was taken captive by IS fighters.
The airman’s family has appealed to IS for mercy, asking the group to treat him well in captivity as a fellow Muslim.
The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presents a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives and local rivals.
The cause of the plane crash is disputed, with the US and Jordan saying it was a malfunction and IS saying they shot down his plane. IS released a simulation of its alleged operation to down the aircraft.
The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State in Syria since September 23, and US and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria airstrikes, with logistical support from Qatar. Jordan, in particular, has come under heavy criticism from militants for its participation.