Monday, February 02, 2015

I believe Kasabeh is dead

I suspect that Moaz al-Kasabeh, the Jordanian pilot who was captured by ISIS, is dead. Why do I think that? Look at how the group has acted recently.

First, ISIS demanded $200 million or else it would execute two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. Although it signaled some willingness to negotiate, the Japanese government did not pay by the deadline, so Yukawa was executed.

Then the demand changed. Instead of money, ISIS demanded that the Jordanian government free the surviving Amman wedding bomber, Sajida al-Rishawi. Rishawi, however, is held by the Jordanian government, not the Japanese. So ISIS offered to both release Goto and to not kill Kasabeh in exchange for Rishawi. But the Jordanians noticed that under those terms the Japanese hostage gets to go free, but their citizen does not does not. Plus, if ISIS refrained from killing Kasabeh at that point but still held him captive, what would stop the group from killing him later, or demanding further concessions from Jordan in exchange for his life down the line?

So Jordan issued a counter-proposal. It offered to free Rishawi in exchange for the release of both Goto and Kasabeh. But as a prerequisite for any such deal, Jordan also demanded some proof that Kasabeh was still alive. Unlike the Japanese hostages who appeared in several videos, ISIS has not released any images, audio, or video that show Kasabeh still alive since the immediate aftermath of his capture.

ISIS wasn't willing to agree to Jordan's terms. But Jordan did give a clear indication that it was willing to negotiate, as did the Japanese government (although a little less explicitly than the Jordanians). More importantly, Jordan made it clear that it was open to ISIS's principal demand, the release of Rishawi. Providing proof that Kasabeh is still alive would have cost ISIS almost nothing, it would have strengthened its position in its negotiations with the Jordanians, and it would have given ISIS the opportunity to try to extract more concessions from Amman (like maybe the release of Rishawi plus some money).

Even though ISIS had no reason not to supply proof of life for Kasabeh and keep the negotiations going, instead, it refused and executed Goto. So unless something changes, the negotiations are now effectively over. ISIS is not going to get Rishawi released and she might even be executed herself, all because they wouldn't take a 3 second video of Kasabeh holding today's newspaper?

That doesn't make sense. In fact, the only way that ISIS's refusal to supply proof of life for Kasabeh is if the group can't do it. In other words, it only makes sense if Kasabeh is already dead. Maybe his death was accidental, or he died trying to escape, or he died from complications from wounds he suffered when he was shot down. However he died, I don't think he was executed because ISIS records executions and uses them quite publicly. I think he died in some way they were not expecting, when they did not have the cameras rolling. They just wanted to see if they could use the Jordanians' ignorance of the fact that  their pilote had already died to extract some concession from them, such as the release of Rishawi. Once Jordan demanded proof of life, it was clear the ploy would not work, so they shut it down by executing Goto.

Now ISIS faces a dwindling supply of foreign hostages, which means its ability to blackmail foreigners into funding the group or to star in brutal propaganda videos is also dwindling. If Kasabeh were still alive, or if he had been intentionally executed, I am sure we would have seen proof of either by now. The fact that we have not means that he probably died unexpectedly while in ISIS's custody.

UPDATE (2/3/15): ISIS has now released video showing Kasabeh being burned alive. It was supposedly filmed on January 3rd, which means they were bluffing when they offered not to kill the Jordanian pilot last week.