Tuesday 12 December 2017

Pilot killing prompts king's return

A poster of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh is held during a protest in front of the Jordanian embassy (AP)
A poster of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh is held during a protest in front of the Jordanian embassy (AP)
Supporters and family members of Jordanian pilot, Lt Moaz al Kasasbeh gather in Amman after his reported killing (AP)

Jordan's king has cut short a trip to the US to rally public support for even tougher strikes against the Islamic State group after a video was released showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned to death in a cage.

The gruesome killing of 26-year-old Moaz al Kasasbeh, captured while participating in airstrikes by a US-led coalition targeting the militants, sparked outrage across the Middle East and anti-Islamic State protests in Jordan.

King Abdullah II, a staunch Western ally, returned home from a White House meeting with President Barack Obama during which both leaders affirmed their resolve to destroy the militants who have seized about one-third of Syria and Iraq.

Jordan believes the international community must intensify the campaign against Islamic State, said government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani. "This evil can and should be defeated," he said.

In the 20-minute video, the pilot displayed signs of having been beaten, including a black eye. Towards the end of the clip, he is shown wearing an orange jumpsuit. He stands in an outdoor cage as a masked militant ignites a line of fuel leading to it.

The video, released on militant websites and bearing the logo of the extremist group's al-Furqan media service, featured the slick production and graphics used in previous Islamic State videos.

Abdullah al-Muhaysni, a prominent Saudi sheik with close links to jihadi groups, said on his Twitter account that while he believes those carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State group deserve to be killed, the Jordanian pilot's immolation was too barbaric and generated sympathy for the man.

"After millions of Muslims were cursing every pilot, with this act they (IS) have made the burned one a symbol," the cleric wrote. "They made everyone who was reluctant to participate in the Crusader campaign (against IS) adjust his opinion and decide to participate."

At the same time, Jordan faces increasing internal and external threats from the militants. It borders areas of Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria. There have also been signs of greater support for the group's militant ideas among Jordan's young and poor.

Following the pilot's death, Jordan launched what it said would be a tough campaign against the Islamic State group. In a first response, Jordan executed Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouly, two Iraqis linked to al-Qaida.

Al-Rishawi had been sentenced to death after her 2005 role in a triple hotel bombing that killed 60 people in Amman orchestrated by al-Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State group. Al-Karbouly was sent to death row in 2008 for plotting terror attacks on Jordanians in Iraq.

Islamic State group militants had purportedly demanded Jordan release al-Rishawi in exchange for the pilot. Over the past week, Jordan had offered to trade her, but froze any swap after failing to receive any proof that the pilot was still alive.

Jordan now believes that the airman was killed in the early days of January, said al-Momani, the government spokesman. He said the assessment is based on additional intelligence information but did not elaborate.

Al Kasasbeh had fallen into the hands of the militants when his F-16 crashed near Raqqa. He was the first airman participating in the US-led bombing raids against militant positions in Syria and Iraq to be captured.

The pilot's father, Safi Yousef al Kasasbeh, urged his government to "take revenge for Moaz and to take revenge for the country, even before Moaz."

Press Association

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