AMMAN, Jordan — A video released online Tuesday purportedly shows a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State extremist group in Syria last month being burned to death by his captors following a weeklong drama over a possible prisoner exchange.
The military confirmed the death of Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, who fell into the hands of the militants in December when his Jordanian F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate. He is the only pilot from the U.S.-led coalition to have been captured to date.
At a tribal meeting place where the pilot’s relatives have waited for weeks for word on his fate, chants against Jordan’s King Abdullah II erupted and some family members wept. An uncle shouted in Arabic: “I received a phone call from the chief of staff saying God bless his soul.” The pilot’s father, Safi, was surrounded by family members.
Hundreds of protesters later took to the streets, chanting: “There is no god but God and the martyr is beloved by God.”
World reacts to Jordan hostage killingNathan King reported this story from Washington, D.C.
The video appeared aimed at testing Jordan’s continuing participation in the U.S.-led coalition attacking the Islamic State group. Jordan’s King Abdullah, a close Western ally, has portrayed the campaign against the extremists as a battle over values, but the airstrikes against fellow Muslims are not popular in Jordan.
The spokesman for the Jordanian armed forces confirmed the death of the “hero pilot” Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh and vowed revenge. But the crisis has led to criticism in Jordan of Amman’s participation in the global coalition against ISIL. The country is one of five Arab countries supporting the U.S. led bombing raids over Syria. The U.S. military has said it will fight together with the coalition until ISIL is defeated.
“While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians,” Mamdouh al-Ameri said in a statement read on Jordanian TV.
The Associated Press was not immediately able to confirm the authenticity of the video, which was released on militant websites and bore the logo of the extremist group’s al-Furqan media service. The 20-minute-long video featured the slick production and graphics used in previous videos released by the group.
A scroll on Jordan TV said that the pilot was killed on Jan. 3, raising questions over whether any of the hostage negotiations were sincere.
The video included purported images of the pilot showing signs of having been beaten, including a black eye. At the end of the video he is purportedly shown wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing in an outdoor cage as a masked militant lights a line of fuel leading to it.
The video threatened other purported Jordanian pilots by name.
U.S. President Barack Obama said if the video is found to be authentic it would be “just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization.”
“It will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of the global coalition to make sure that they are degraded and ultimately defeated,” he told reporters during an event at the White House.
In a later statement the president expressed his condolences to al-Kasasbeh’s family and loved ones and the to “the brave men and women of the Jordan Armed Forces, and to King Abdullah II and the people of Jordan.”
“Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh’s dedication, courage, and service to his country and family represent universal human values that stand in opposition to the cowardice and depravity of ISIL, which has been so broadly rejected around the globe,” Obama said. “It is their memory that invests us and our coalition partners with the undeterred resolve to see ISIL and its hateful ideology banished to the recesses of history.”
Following militant demands, Jordan’s government had said it was willing to trade Sajida al-Rishawi, an al-Qaida prisoner, for the pilot, but that it wanted proof of life first. Al-Rishawi faces death in Jordan for her role in triple 2005 hotel bombings that killed 60 people.
The latest video emerged three days after Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was purportedly beheaded by the militants. The fate of the two captives had been linked but a video of Goto’s purported slaying released Saturday made no mention of the pilot.
An audio message last week, also purportedly from the Islamic State group, only said the pilot would be killed if al-Rishawi was not released Thursday.
The Islamic State extremist group, which controls around a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq, has released a series of grisly videos showing the killing of captives, including two American journalists, an American aid worker and two British aid workers. Tuesday’s was the first to show a captive being burned alive.
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David L. Phillips, a former State Department adviser on the Middle East, said he believes the brutal killing of the pilot could backfire, antagonizing Sunni Muslims against the Islamic State group, including Sunni tribes in Iraq.
“They need to have a welcome from Sunni Arabs in Anbar Province (in Iraq) to maintain their operations,” said Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University.
He said the extremist group’s recent military setbacks may have fueled the killings. “They need to compensate for that with increasingly gruesome killings of prisoners,” he said.
In Washington, Jordan’s King Abdullah met privately with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but Abdullah cut his U.S. short to fly back to Amman. He has declared three days of official mourning for the murdered pilot. Before leaving, King Abdullah went to the White House to show solidarity with President Obama in the fight against ISIL.
Earlier, King Abdullah addressed the Jordanian people in a speech carried live on state television.
“We have received with sorrow the news about Muath al-Kaseasbeh falling as a martyr, at the hands of the coward Islamic State group. That has nothing to do with our religion,” the king said. “Muath al-Kaseasbeh who fell as a martyr defending his homeland. He joined his martyred comrades. We stand today alongside the family of the martyr, and with our people in this hard moment. It is a duty of everyone to stand in one line and show the real values of Jordanians and these hardships will strengthen us.”
Other Jordanian leaders also made clear that the hostage crisis will not prompt it to leave the U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State group.
“We now all know in Jordan, beyond any doubt, how barbaric ISIS is,” Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said. “Whoever doubted the unity of Jordan will now be proved wrong. Whoever doubts Jordan’s stern and lethal response will be proved wrong.”
On Sunday, a day after a video emerged of the purported beheading of Goto, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh insisted the kingdom remains “as committed as ever” to the coalition.
Experts are divided over whether Jordan faces a greater threat from extremists outside its borders or from those within. In recent months, there have been signs of greater support for the Islamic State group’s ideas among Jordan’s young and poor. Last year, the government intensified a crackdown on IS sympathizers and the al-Qaida branch in Syria.
Currently, about 220 Jordanians are in prison because of alleged ties to such groups, including 30 who are serving terms from three to five years, said Marwan Shehadeh, an expert on militant groups.
Story compiled from AP and Reuters reports.
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