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Jordan Waits On Fate Of Its ISIS Prisoner


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. After days of waiting to see if the self-proclaimed Islamic State would spare Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, the group released a video yesterday reportedly showing his death. Meanwhile, negotiations between ISIS and Jordan for a prisoner swap are a t a standstill. Jordan offered to release an Iraqi woman imprisoned on terror charges if ISIS would release a Jordanian Air Force pilot. The deadline for the exchange was Friday. Today, Jordanian officials said they are still ready to hand over the prisoner.

Taylor Luck is an Amman- based journalist and a regular contributor to The Washington Post. He's lived in Amman, Jordan for the past decade. Taylor Luck, welcome to the program.

TAYLOR LUCK: Hi, Rachel. Great to be with you.

MARTIN: So, Taylor, this is really the first time that Jordan has been drawn into the public propaganda campaign waged by ISIS. How is this whole thing playing out in the Jordanian press?

LUCK: Locally, in the Jordanian press, there's been a bit of a clamp down from the government. Over all, the feeling on the street is anger over all in terms of the issue. Jordanians were lukewarm to the coalition even before this hostage crisis. But now with the sacrifice of life being played out, you know, in the press, it's really turned public opinion against this war.

MARTIN: When you say public opinion has turned, has the Jordanian population been animated by the fight against ISIS in general?

LUCK: We've seen, you know, small-scope protests here and there, but the hostage crisis is dominating almost all conversations. Moath Kasasbeh, the detained pilot is in the hearts and minds of every single Jordanian. And essentially, everyone is watching around-the-clock for any updates, any information. But it's also turned into people going out to the streets as well. A lot of pro-Kasasbeh rallies have turned into anti-coalition protests with people calling for Jordan to withdraw from the coalition and chanting directly to Abdullah. You know, Abdullah, why are we fighting this war? Why? So really, there has been simmering anger. And I think that if this pilot is not returned to Jordan safe and sound, we'll see a much louder rejection of the U.S. coalition and Jordan's role.

MARTIN: Can you tell us about the Iraqi woman who's being imprisoned in Jordan?

LUCK: The detainee in question that is part of the proposed prisoner swap is Sajida al-Rishawi. She was a co-conspirator of the 2005 Amman hotel bombings, which killed 65 civilians. And Rishawi has been on death row for the past decade. In terms of the Jordanian public, it's just not seen as, you know, a highly valued detainee. Most Jordanians are all aboard this swap, even for the Jordanian government. I think that they would make the swap 100 times out of 100. So really what we're seeing here is a kind of a backlash against Jordanian policy. What's turned into a hostage crisis has essentially escalated to a referendum on Jordan's role in the U.S.-led coalition.

MARTIN: Well, what are those debates like? I mean, we should point out, there are roughly 1,500 Jordanians who are fighting with ISIS abroad.

LUCK: Exactly. And several Jordanians have risen into leadership ranks within ISIS. Really, you know, what the debate is, you know, essentially, how is this Jordan's war? And how is the Islamic State posing a threat to Jordan? And for a lot of people, they really just see that it's, you know, pressure from the U.S., pressure from the west to get Jordan involved. And they really don't see it as, you know, a real big threat. According to most opinion polls, only 40 percent of Jordanians view the Islamic State as a terrorist organization. You know, maybe Islam majorities see it as a pan-Sunni movement and a movement that's defended Sunni Muslims in Iraq, defended them in Syria. And even at home, there is some support for the Islamic State.

MARTIN: Taylor Luck. He is a regular contributor to The Washington Post. He's been based in Amman, Jordan for the past 10 years. Taylor, thanks so much for talking with us.

LUCK: Thank you so much, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.