A video released online Tuesday purportedly showed a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria being burned to death by his captors following a weeklong drama over a possible prisoner exchange.
Jordan threatened a harsh response to the killing of Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, who fell into the hands of the terrorists in December when his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate. He was the only pilot from the U.S.-led coalition to have been captured to date.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is in Washington, spoke on Jordan broadcast media, urging all Jordanians to unite. Confirming the pilot’s death, the king said “it’s the duty of all of us to stand united and show the real values of Jordanians in the face of these hardships.”
However, in the pilot’s home village of Ai, violent protests erupted and a local government office was set on fire. Witnesses said the situation was tense and riot police were patrolling the streets.
At a tribal meeting place where the pilot’s relatives have waited for weeks for word on his fate, family members wept when receiving word of the pilot’s death. Outside, hundreds of people later took to the streets.
The video appeared aimed at pressuring Jordan to leave the coalition that has been battling to roll back the Islamic State group. Jordan’s king, a close Western ally, has portrayed the campaign against the terrorists as a battle over values, but the airstrikes against fellow Muslims are not popular in Jordan.
Jordanian government officials have said they country’s continued participation in the coalition is assured, despite the hostage crisis. Officials said the killing of the pilot would only toughen Jordan’s stance.
“The Jordanian response to the assassination of the hero pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh, will be strong, decisive and swift,” government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said in a statement carried by the official news agency Petra.
The army spokesman, Mamdouh al-Ameri, said that “our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians.”
The official Petra news agency said the king was cutting short his Washington visit and returning home.
In response to demands by terrorists, Jordan’s government had said in recent days 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 by hanging in Jordan for her role in triple 2005 hotel bombings that killed 60 people.
Proposed Prisnor Swap
An audio message last week, purportedly from the Islamic State group, said the pilot would be killed if al-Rishawi was not released Thursday, without actually proposing a swap.
A scroll on Jordan media said the pilot was killed on Jan. 3, raising questions over whether any of the hostage negotiations were sincere.
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.
Obama later issued a statement offering condolences, saying the pilot’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.”
Jordan’s Terror Threat
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 terrorist groups.