THE Jordanian government has vowed â€œpunishment and revengeâ€ against Islamic State after the jihadi group released a video showing a Jordanian pilot they were holding hostage being burned to death inside a locked cage.
Displaying a level of brutality shocking even by the standards of the groupâ€™s previous killings, the murder of First Lieutenant Muadh al-Kasasbeh (pic) is likely to heighten tensions further in Jordan, a key Arab member of US-led coalition against Isis. The kingdom has rounded up scores of jihadist sympathisers since the summer.
Jordan responded immediately by scheduling for Wednesday the executions of five convicted terrorists, including the failed suicide bomber whom the group had wanted to trade.
Sajida al-Rishawi, whom Isis had wanted to swap for Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, was one of five death row inmates moved to a prison where executions take place in Jordan. The group was transferred to Wastaqa prison within hours of the horrific video being uploaded.
In a short televised address, Jordanâ€™s King Abdullah II called Kasasbehâ€™s killing an act of â€œcowardly terror by a criminal group that has no relation to Islam. Itâ€™s the duty of all citizens to stand together.â€
Abdullah cut short a visit to the United States to return home after the video was released but the White House said he would meet with Barack Obama before he left.
Confirming the death of the pilot, Jordanâ€™s army spokesman Col Mamdouh al-Ameri said in a televised statement that Jordan would deliver a â€œstrong, earth-shakingâ€ response.
Officials in Amman were also quick to react. â€œThe military forces announce that the hero pilot, Muadh al-Kasasbeh, has fallen as a martyr, and ask God to accept him with the martyrs,â€ said armed forces spokesman Mamdouh al-Ameri.
â€œWhile the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasise his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians.â€
The US, which has led an airforce coalition against Isis, moved rapidly to denounce the killing, saying it would lead to a redoubling of efforts to degrade the terror group. Barack Obama said the video, if authenticated, would be another sign of the â€œviciousness and barbarityâ€ of the militant group.
â€œWhatever ideology theyâ€™re operating off of, itâ€™s bankrupt,â€ Obama told reporters. He added that the video would redouble the determination of the US-led coalition fighting the group in Syria and Iraq.
David Cameron condemned the pilotâ€™s murder as â€œsickeningâ€ and said it would â€œstrengthen our resolveâ€ to defeat Isis.
The ordeal of Kasasbeh had captivated Jordan, with many of its citizens increasingly rallying behind the fight against the terror group after he was shot down.
However, at a tribal meeting place where the pilotâ€™s relatives have waited for weeks for word on his fate, chants against Jordanâ€™s king erupted and some family members wept after news of his death was announced. An uncle shouted in Arabic: â€œI received a phone call from the chief of staff saying God bless his soul.â€
Before his death, Kasasbeh was forced to reveal the names and workplaces of many fellow pilots in the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Their photographs appeared at the end of a 23-minute video depicting his death, along with an offer of a bounty of 100 gold dinars (roughly $20,000) for each pilot killed.
In the video, which was widely circulated on Tuesday night, Kasasbeh, was walked through the ruins of a building, which appeared to have been destroyed by an air strike. He was then seen in a cage at the same site, with a line of flames, ignited by an Isis militant, creeping towards the cage, then engulfing him.
Earlier in the video, Kasasbeh, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, gave an account of his bombing run over Syria, which ended with his F-16 fighter jet crashing just outside the Isis stronghold of Raqqa.
Officials in Amman said Kasasbeh was killed on 3 January, around three weeks before Isis had offered to trade Goto for Rishawi, who was sentenced to death for a 2005 bombing campaign in central Amman.
The jihadis had not offered Kasasbeh for Rishawi, but had suggested that his life would be spared if she was handed over.
Jordanian officials baulked at the deal, despite the pleadings of Japanese leaders, insisting that Isis provide proof that he was still alive. As five tense days of discussions wore on, government officials increasingly hinted that Kasasbeh may have been killed and that the swap would not proceed.
Goto was beheaded, apparently a short time after a deadline of sunset last Thursday that was set by his captors for Rishawi to be delivered to them. He was the only pilot to have been shot down so far in the six-month air campaign, which has dropped more than 1,800 bombs on the terror group, slowing its momentum but not yet denying the groupâ€™s strategic goal of consolidating its hold over a swath of land the size of Jordan stretching from the eastern edge of Aleppo to central Iraq.
Jordan had played a prominent, though low key, role in supporting rebels for opposition groups fighting Bashar al-Assad – a policy which was primarily aimed at stopping the insurgency from spreading to its territory.
It later signed up to the US-led air coalition, to fight Isis, which had splintered the original opposition in northern and eastern Syria and had attempted to transform the war into a regional and global sectarian conflict.
The Jordanian air force had been flying regular missions over Syria and Iraq before Kasasbeh was shot down over Raqqa on 4 December.
Isis has suffered an estimated 4,000 casualties, 1,400 of them in the border town of Kobani, which fell last week to Kurdish fighters after a four-month battle. The air coalition dropped on Kobani more than one third of all the ordinance it has used throughout the campaign and proved decisive in the fight, which was a major setback for Isis.
The militant group released an â€œinterviewâ€ with the fighter pilot in their English language publication Dabiq magazine at the end of December. In the article the pilot is claimed to have ejected from his aircraft, landing in the Euphrates river, where he was then said to be captured by Isis militants.
Rishawi, 44, had been sentenced to death after being convicted for her part in an al-Qaida attack on a string of hotels in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people. That attack was a seminal moment in the arc of Isis – directly leading to one of itâ€™s biggest setbacks, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the then head of the Islamic State of Iraq – an earlier incarnation of the terror group now controlling much of eastern Syria and western Iraq.
Rishawi was captured after one of three explosions in central Amman, on 9 November 2005 that were ordered by Zarqawi. Her husband, Ali Hussein al-Shamari detonated his bomb in the Radison SAS hotel, but Reshawiâ€™s bomb was faulty.
The Amman bombings led Jordan to intensify efforts to find Zarqawi, a Jordanian citizen, and to crack down on a network he had cultivated within the Kingdom. The bombings are widely viewed within the organisation as a mistake, that derailed the groupâ€™s momentum for several years.
Now though, with an estimated 25,000 battle hardened fighters, and tens of thousands more people who have joined the group out of fear or coercion, Isis poses a formidable threat to stability in the region and the nation state boundaries that were carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Jordan and Saudi Arabia are both considered illegitimate states by the group, which has pledged to topple their respective monarchies and export its draconian reading of Islamic tradition across the Arab world. – The Guardian