AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan is willing to swap an Iraqi woman prisoner involved in deadly 2005 hotel bombings for a Jordanian pilot captured in December by extremists from the Islamic State group, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
Such a swap would run counter to Jordan's hardline approach toward Islamic militants and to the position of its main ally, the United States, of not negotiating with extremists. An exchange also would set a precedent for negotiating with Islamic State group militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases.
However, Jordan's government faces domestic pressure to bring the pilot home, while its participation in a U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State group is widely unpopular among Jordanians.
The government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani, did not say whether a swap would actually take place. He also made no mention of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is also being held by the Islamic State group.
Efforts to release the pilot and the journalist gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming the Islamic State group would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the Iraqi woman was not freed.
On Wednesday, al-Momani said that "Jordan is ready to release the Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed." His comments were carried by Jordan's official Petra news agency.
Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people. Her release would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State group.
Jordan is reportedly in indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the hostages' release.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Jordan's parliament, Bassam Al-Manasseer, has been quoted as saying that Jordan and Japan would not negotiate directly with the Islamic State group and would not free al-Rishawi for the Japanese hostage only.
The pilot's father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, has repeatedly criticized the Jordanian government's handling of the crisis, saying more must be done to bring his son home.
"I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations," he told The Associated Press, speaking after the government raised the possibility of a swap.
"The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does," the father said.
The pilot's brother, Jawad al-Kaseasbeh, said the family is still "waiting for any word from the Jordanian government."
On Tuesday evening, about 200 of the pilot's relatives protested outside the prime minister's office in Amman, chanting anti-government slogans and urging that it meet the captors' demands.
In Tokyo, the mother of the Japanese hostage appealed publicly to Japan's premier to save her son. Junko Ishido read to reporters her plea to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which she said she sent after both Abe and Japan's main government spokesman declined to meet with her.
"Please save Kenji's life," Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.
"Kenji has only a little time left," she said.
Later, a few dozen people gathered in front of the prime minister's official residence, holding banners and placards expressing their hopes for Goto's release.
"I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me," said Seigo Maeda, a 46-year-old friend of Goto.
The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.
Although many in Japan are critical of the two men for going to Syria, Goto's friends and supporters have launched a social media campaign calling for his release.
Tuesday's video resembled a message released over the weekend that purportedly withdrew a demand for $200 million ransom for Goto and Yukawa made in an earlier message.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the videos released Saturday and Tuesday. They lack the logo of the Islamic State group's al-Furqan media arm. But some militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group referenced the latest video and posted links to it on Tuesday.
The latest message condemns Jordan for not releasing al-Rishawi, saying that unless she is freed within 24 hours, the pilot, followed by Goto, will be killed. It says it is the group's last message.
Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the Islamic State group's de facto capital Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot they have captured since a U.S.-led coalition that includes Jordan began an aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in August.
This is the first time that the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been released in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.
Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.
The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, said her family was told the Islamic State group also wants his release as part of a swap, but it is unclear if that was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.
Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.
The Islamic State group broke with al-Qaida's central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network's former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.
Kurtenbach reported from Tokyo.
Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank; Omar Akour in Amman and Kaori Hitomi, Emily Wang, Koji Ueda and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Challenged by Republicans, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch on Wednesday defended President Barack Obama's decision to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation though they live in the country illegally.
She said that under the administration's policy, the Department of Homeland Security is focusing its efforts on the removal of "the most dangerous of the undocumented immigrants among us."
"It seems to be a reasonable way to marshal limited resources to deal with the problem" of illegal immigration, she said.
Lynch made her remarks in the opening moments of a hearing into her appointment as the nation's first black female attorney general. It is the first confirmation proceeding since Republicans took control of the Senate this month.
Lynch, a daughter of the segregated South, was accompanied at the hearing by about 30 family members and friends. Among them were her father, who is a retired minister, her husband and several members of her college sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, wearing their trademark red.
Settling into the witness chair for what promised to be a long day of questioning, Lynch promised a fresh relationship with law enforcement and with Congress.
"I pledge to all of you and to the American people that I will fulfill my responsibilities with integrity and independence," she said in remarks prepared for the panel led by Republicans who say Attorney General Eric Holder has been too willing to follow President Barack Obama's political agenda.
Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican and committee chairman, said as much in the opening moments of the hearing. He said the department is "deeply politicized. But that's what happens when the attorney general of the United States views himself, in his own words, as the president's 'wingman.'"
Grassley did not press further after Lynch offered her defense of Obama's immigration policies, even though he said they amount to rewriting the law rather than enforcing it.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is widely expected to win confirmation easily, if only because Republicans are so eager for Holder's tenure to end. He has been a lightning rod for conservative criticism, clashing with Republicans and becoming the first sitting attorney general held in contempt of Congress.
In testimony delivered before she was questioned, Lynch said that if confirmed she would focus on combatting terrorism and cybercrime and would protect the vulnerable from criminal predators.
And she was at pains to promise what Republican critics demanded in advance.
"I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee, the United States Senate and the entire United States Congress, a relationship based on mutual respect and constitutional balance," she said.
Holder also battled the perception from critics that he aligned himself more with protesters of police violence than with members of law enforcement, a charge he and the Justice Department have strongly denied — but one that resonated in the aftermath of high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.
In her prepared testimony, Lynch promised a fresh start in that relationship, too.
"Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve," Lynch said, pledging to "work to strengthen the vital relationships" if confirmed.
Lynch already has earned praise from several GOP senators for her impressive credentials and accomplishments. But she faced tough questions from Republicans who now control the Senate.
"She certainly has the credentials. We don't want a repeat of what we had," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior committee member. "I look upon her as a pretty good appointment, but I have to listen along with everybody else."
In answer to a question from Hatch, she said Wednesday, "Every lawyer has to be independent, the attorney general even more so, and I pledge to you that I take that independence seriously."
The Judiciary Committee includes some of the Senate's most outspoken Republicans, among them Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential presidential candidate who promised to quiz Lynch on Obama's executive actions on immigration that granted reprieves from deportation to millions.
"We need an attorney general who will stop being a partisan attack dog and instead get back to the traditions of upholding the Constitution and the law in a fair and impartial manner," Cruz said.
Lynch's hearing comes amid a nationwide spotlight on police tactics in the wake of deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers, as well as the slaying last month of two officers in New York City. It's an issue Lynch, 55, is deeply familiar with.
Lynch helped prosecute the New York City police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997. Her office in New York is currently leading a civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island last summer.
Lynch has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001.
Lynch grew up with humble beginnings in North Carolina, the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist minister. She received undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. testimony.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for months will stand trial "soon," the Islamic Republic's official news agency reported Wednesday.
The report by the IRNA news agency quoted Gholam Hossein Esmaeili, a senior judicial official. The report did not offer a specific time for the trial to start.
"Jason Rezaian will be tried soon," Esmaeili was quoted as saying.
Rezaian, his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two photojournalists initially were detained July 22 in Iran's capital, Tehran. All later were released except Rezaian, who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. Iran does not recognize dual citizenships
Iranian officials have not announced the charges Rezaian faces. However, they say Rezaian will stand trial in Iran's Revolutionary Court, which mostly hears cases involving security offenses.
Esmaeili said Rezaian "is in touch with his family and allowed meeting." Officials say he has already met his mother twice when she travelled to Iran recently.
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, called Rezaian's continued imprisonment "appalling and outrageous" in a statement Wednesday.
"We have yet to hear any accounting of any charges against Jason, who after six months in custody, has still not been provided access to a lawyer," Baron said. "A fair and just approach by Iran's judiciary could only result in his immediate release."
The U.S. State Department repeatedly has raised the subject of Rezaian and other Americans jailed in Iran during talks with the government about a deal to curb Iran's nuclear capacity and ease international sanctions.
The U.S. and its partners are hoping to clinch a deal with Iran that would set long-term limits on Iran's enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is solely for energy production and medical research purposes. It has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from U.S. economic sanctions.
Hard-liners in Iran have grown increasingly critical of Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani's efforts at negotiations, though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly has backed the talks.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With two former Vanderbilt football players facing decades in prison after being convicted of the rape of an unconscious student in a dorm room, attention now turns to two of their teammates who have yet to go to trial.
ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — The convictions of nine South Carolina black men who integrated a whites-only lunch counter during the height of the civil rights movement were tossed out Wednesday during an emotional hearing before a packed courtroom.
"We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history," Judge Mark Hayes said as he made the ruling for the men known as the Friendship 9, and those in court clapped and cheered.
Prosecutor Kevin Brackett apologized to the men — eight of whom were in court. The ninth has died.
"Sometimes you just have to say you're sorry ... my heartfelt apologies for what happened in 1961," Brackett said.
Fifty-four-years ago, the eight college students and one civil rights organizer were convicted of trespassing and protesting at McCrory variety store in Rock Hill.
The men's refusal to pay bail money into the segregationist town's city coffers served as a catalyst for other civil disobedience. Inspired by their courage, demonstrators across the South adopted their "jail not bail" tactic and filled jail cells. The media attention helped turn scattered protests into a nationwide movement.
W.T. "Dub" Massey and seven other students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College — Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, Clarence Graham, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., John Gaines and Mack Workman — were encouraged to violate the town's Jim Crow laws by Thomas Gaither, who came to town as an activist with the Congress of Racial Equality.
About a year had passed since a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, helped galvanize the nation's civil rights movement. But change was slow to come to Rock Hill. They decided to challenge matters by getting arrested in February 1961 for ordering lunch at McCrory's variety store, and were convicted of trespassing and breach of peace.
Author Kim Johnson, who published "No Fear For Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9" last year, went to Kevin Brackett, the solicitor for York and Union counties, to see what could be done to clear their records.
"This is an opportunity for us to bring the community together," Johnson told The Associated Press before the ruling. "To have the records vacated essentially says that it should have never happened in the first place."
Brackett's request to a Rock Hill judge came too late for McCullough, who died in 2006. But some of the others returned to town ahead of the hearing to reflect on their experience.
The men's names are engraved on the stools at the counter of the restaurant on Main Street, now called the Old Town Bistro. A plaque outside marks the spot where they were arrested. And official and personal apologies have been offered to the men over the years.
In 2009, a white man named Elwin Wilson who tried to pull one of the protesters from a stool nearly 50 years earlier returned to the same counter, meeting with some of the men. They forgave him.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia contributed to this report.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three men have been sentenced in a scheme that used homeless men to cash counterfeit payroll checks in the Kansas City area.
Federal prosecutors say more than $400,000 in counterfeit checks were cashed in the region in late 2012 and early 2013, as part of a scheme that used homeless people to cash more than $8 million in counterfeit checks across the country.
Forty-eight-year-old Truly Matthews and 47-year-old Calvin Almond, both of Atlanta, and 55-year-old Gary Merritt, of Kansas City, Kansas, were sentenced Monday. Matthews was sentenced to 10 years and four months in federal prison without parole and must pay $62,861 in restitution; Merritt got five years and $239,092 in restitution; and Almond was sentenced to two years and 11 months and $57,772 in restitution.