26 January 2015
Sajida al-Rishawi hid a belt of explosives and another packed with ball bearings under her baggy, floor-length coat and set off with her husband to blow up a hotel full of wedding guests in Jordan’s capital in November 2005. Her bomb failed to explode.
Nine years later, al-Rishawi is at the centre of a hostage-swap negotiation after Islamic Statemilitants demanded her release from a Jordanian prison where she’s held on death row, in exchange for Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist they’ve threatened to kill. A shackled Goto explained the group’s demands in a video Saturday where he held up a photo of the decapitated body of a second Japanese hostage.
The purported Islamic State demand has sparked a torrent of speculation about why this woman in her mid-40s has been singled out as subject for negotiation. The answer may be explained by a combination of her links to Abu Masub al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian- born leader of Al Qaeda’s Iraq branch, killed in a 2006 U.S. air strike, and an attempt by Islamic State to test the waters for high-value prisoner swaps.
“Getting governments started on the habit of prisoner swapping is kind of like a gateway drug,” Joseph Franco, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “You start with a little weed, then you end up with really nasty stuff up your veins.”
CENS / Online
Last updated on 03/12/2015