Thursday 18 January 2018

IS burns Jordanian pilot alive

Anwar al-Tarawneh, centre, the wife of Jordanian pilot Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh, campaigns for his release (AP)
Anwar al-Tarawneh, centre, the wife of Jordanian pilot Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh, campaigns for his release (AP)

A Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State extremist group in Syria has been burned to death by his captors following a week-long 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 militants 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 US-led coalition to have been captured to date.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is in Washington, spoke on Jordan TV, urging all Jordanians to unite.

Confirming the pilot's death,which was shown in a video released by IS, 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.

The video appeared aimed at pressuring Jordan to leave the coalition that has been battling to roll back the IS group. Jordan's king, 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.

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.

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. He stands in an outdoor cage as a masked militant lights a line of fuel leading to it.

The video threatened other Jordanian pilots by name.

The latest video emerged three days after Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was beheaded by the militants.

The fate of the two captives had been linked but a video of Goto's slaying released on Saturday made no mention of the pilot.

In response to demands by militants, 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.

US 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 organisation".

"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.

Mr 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".

Press Association

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