In Depth

Sajida al Rishawi: why her enemies want her freed

Islamic State is seeking the release of Sajida al Rishawi, a failed suicide bomber sent by rival group al-Qaeda

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Islamic State is demanding the release of former al-Qaeda member Sajida al Rishawi, who attempted to blow herself up in a Jordanian hotel. 

The militant group has threatened to kill Muath al-Kasaesbeh and Kenji Goto, hostages from Jordan and Japan, unless Rishawi is released from her Jordanian prison cell.

Since al-Qaeda and Islamic State are deadly rivals, some commentators have been surprised that IS would choose to spring Rishawi from jail.

Who is Sajida al Rishawi?

Rishawi, 44, lived with her husband in Ramadi, central Iraq, before the couple travelled to Jordan in 2005 to carry out a suicide attack in a luxury hotel in the capital, Amman. Her brother was reportedly a senior aide to Abu Mussab Alzarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed by the Americans in 2006, The Guardian reports. Jordanian investigators told the New York Times in 2005 that three of her brothers had previously been killed by the Americans in Iraq.

How did she end up in prison?

In 2005, Rishawi's husband blew himself up at a wedding in a luxury hotel in Amman, the Huffington Post reports, but the loaded suicide belt strapped to Rishawi's chest failed to explode. She was pushed out of the hotel by her husband before he blew himself up. Later, the Jordanian authorities arrested her in her flat in the capital. On Jordanian state TV, Rishawi confessed that she and her husband were sent by al-Qaeda in Iraq to carry out the attack. She was sentenced to death in 2006, but in the same year the Jordanian government placed a moratorium on the death penalty. 

Why does Islamic State wants her to be freed?

According to CNN, it has become clear in recent months that al-Qaeda's leadership has fallen out with that of Islamic State. The Associated Press said that securing the release of Rishawi would be 'a major propaganda coup' for IS, following a string of setbacks on the battlefield, most recently in Kobane. It would humiliate al-Qaeda's leaders and, perhaps, win over some of its followers.

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