Fate of ISIS captives up in the air as night falls in the Middle East

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(CNN) — As the sun set Thursday in the Middle East, did two ISIS captives — one a Jordanian pilot, the other a Japanese journalist — fall with it?

That was the question following a new message, purportedly from the terrorist group, that pushed Jordan to bring convicted terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi to the Turkish border by 5:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET). If they didn’t, according to the message, Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh would be killed, followed soon thereafter by Kenji Goto of Japan.

For days, Jordanian officials have said they’re willing to swap al-Rishawi for al-Kassasbeh.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani reiterated as much late Thursday afternoon, about an hour before the purported deadline. He said Jordan is not about to pull off a deal yet, having received no proof that its pilot is still alive.

“We need a proof of life so we can proceed,” the government spokesman said.

If Jordan gets such proof and releases al-Rishawi, it is not clear whether that would mean Goto also goes free. Or al-Kassasbeh, for that matter.

So the drama continues, with so much unsettled and so much on the line.

Early Friday, Japan’s foreign minister described the situation as “still fluid and changing.”

“We need to continue to deal with this in a state of alert,” Fumio Kishida told reporters.

ISIS has shown its willingness to kill hostages before, the first being American journalist James Foley last summer and the latest being Haruna Yukawa, an aspiring security contractor from Japan reportedly killed last week.

But is it willing to negotiate with governments that are fighting to stop its brutal, expansive campaign to expand what it calls the Islamic State?

Recordings with demands, threats

The drama is coming after the latest message posted by ISIS supporters, purportedly featuring Goto’s voice.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the latest message, which was read by a person claiming to be Goto and posted online by ISIS supporters. Al-Momani said that “the competent authorities (in his government) are still checking on the authenticity of the recent recording,” state TV reported about two hours before the possible deadline.

It follows another recording in which ISIS at first demanded $200 million to free Goto and Yukawa. A few days later, there was a new message — this one with a man’s voice claiming to be Goto, saying that the terror group was dropping its ransom request and instead demanding a swap of the Japanese journalist for al-Rishawi.

In the third recording in this string, Goto purportedly gives Jordan 24 hours to release the convicted terrorist in “exchange for my life.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh had said his country would release al-Rishawi if ISIS released al-Kassasbeh.

Judeh has said that the Japanese journalist has not been forgotten. “Of course,” Goto’s release would be part of a prisoner exchange, Judeh said.

But the priority for Jordan, he made clear, is al-Kassasbeh’s freedom.

Families’ anguish

Who are those involved in this complicated crisis involving several countries?

• Al-Rishawi is an Iraqi prisoner on death row in Jordan for her role in 2005 bombings.

• Goto, an experienced war journalist, has been at the center of several threats by ISIS since his capture. Last week, the group demanded $200 million from Japan in exchange for Goto and fellow Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, an aspiring security contractor. Since then, ISIS has claimed Yukawa is dead, but Goto is still alive.

• Al-Kassasbeh was captured by ISIS last month after the fighter jet he was flying crashed in Syria. ISIS says he’s still alive, but Jordan’s foreign minister told CNN his government has asked for a proof of life, but hasn’t received it.

They are not just captives, but people with loved ones desperately seeking their release.

The 47-year-old Goto left Japan last fall, when his youngest of two daughters was a mere 3 weeks old. Now his family — including his wife, Rinko, who heard from his captors first on December 2 and most recently in a Wednesday email with their “final demand” — wants him back.

“My husband is a good and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who suffer,” she said in a statement released through the Rory Peck Trust, a nonprofit focused on freelance journalists. “… “I beg the Jordanian and Japanese government to understand that the fates of both (Goto and al-Kassasbeh) are in their hands.”

Relatives of the Jordanian pilot — captured after he ejected from his F-16 jet last month near Raqqa, the extremist group’s de facto capital in Syria — have also been outspoken, pressing officials in Amman to do all they can to secure his release.

“I firmly ask whomever has sent Moaz to fight outside the borders of Jordan, on a mission unrelated to us, to make strong efforts to bring back Moaz,” the captive’s father, Safi al-Kassasbeh, said Tuesday, adding that he believes his son’s situation and Goto’s shouldn’t be mixed up.

Safi al-Kassasbeh made his case again Thursday evening, after the sunset deadline had passed.

“I ask you in the name of God and his Prophet and all the believers and the names of tens of millions in Jordan and Palestine, in kindness, to release my son and the son of all Jordanians, who is your brother in the Islam religion and because forgiveness is a message of the Prophet,” he told reporters.

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