Tuesday 16 January 2018

Jordan pledges to 'wipe out' IS

Kayla Mueller pictured in May 2013 - Islamic State militants claimed she has been killed in a Jordanian airstrike in Syria (AP/The Daily Courier)
Kayla Mueller pictured in May 2013 - Islamic State militants claimed she has been killed in a Jordanian airstrike in Syria (AP/The Daily Courier)

Jordan is going after Islamic State group militants wherever they are and plans to "wipe them out completely," Jordan's interior minister said.

He issued the warning as Jordanian fighter jets struck the group's positions for the third consecutive day.

It was the latest in a series of warnings of harsh retaliation after the militants released a video of them burning a Jordanian pilot to death in a cage. The gruesome images sparked widespread anger in Jordan and the region.

The kingdom joined a US-led military coalition in September, but said after the killing of the pilot, Lt. Muath al Kaseasbeh, that it would intensify its air attacks. The campaign began on Thursday, with state media reporting new strikes today.

Interior Minister Hussein al-Majali said al Kaseasbeh's killing was a turning point for Jordan.

He told the state-run al-Rai newspaper that Jordan will go after the militants "wherever they are".

The most recent airstrikes are "the beginning of a continued process to eliminate them and wipe them out completely," he said of the militants who control about a third of neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

The heightened confrontation has raised concerns about possible Islamic State group attacks in Jordan.

The minister said security services have a tight grip and are ready for "anyone who wants to interfere in the security of Jordan". He urged Jordanians to report suspicious behaviour, particular in neighbourhoods with large numbers of non-Jordanians.

His comments came the day after IS claimed a US hostage held by the group was killed in a Jordanian air strike in northern Syria.

The government of Jordan dismissed the statement as "criminal propaganda" and the US said it had not seen any evidence to corroborate the report.

The woman was identified as Kayla Jean Mueller, an American who went to Syria to do aid work, but there was no independent verification of the militants' claim.

The statement appeared on a militant website commonly used by the group and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users.

Ms Mueller, 26, of Prescott, Arizona, is the only known remaining US hostage held by IS. If the death was confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while being held by IS militants.

Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig were beheaded by the group.

Journalist Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria's civil war.

It is not clear who is holding him, but it is not believed to be IS or the Syrian government, his family has said.

Yesterday's statement said Ms Mueller was killed in the militants' stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria in air strikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour".

It published photos purportedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged three-storey building, but offered no proof or images of Ms Mueller. The statement said no IS militants were killed in the air strikes, raising further questions about the claim.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said it was investigating.

"But as a first reaction, we think it's illogical and we are highly sceptical about it," he said.

"How could they identify a Jordanian warplane ... in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?

"It's part of their criminal propaganda. They have lied that our pilot is alive and tried to negotiate, claiming he is alive while they had killed him weeks before."

American officials said they also were looking into the report.

Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said the White House has "not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates" the claim.

"We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports," she added.

A US official said coalition aircraft did conduct bombing near Raqqa yesterday, but had nothing to confirm the claim that the American captive was killed in the air strike.

The parents of Ms Mueller said in a statement: "You told us that you treated Kayla as your guest, as your guest her safety and well-being remains your responsibility."

Ms Mueller is an aid worker who previously volunteered with organisations in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Her identity had not been disclosed until now out of fears for her safety. Her family said she was taken hostage by the Islamic State group on August 4, 2013, while leaving a hospital in Syria.

"The common thread of Kayla's life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others," her family said.

Press Association

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