Jordan executes prisoners in retaliation for ISIS’ killing of pilot
(CNN) — Jordan swiftly responded to ISIS’ burning alive one of its fighter pilots, announcing early Wednesday the executions of two jihadist prisoners who were aligned with the terror group.
One of the convicts hanged was Sajida al-Rishawi, a would-be suicide bomber whose release ISIS had previously demanded as part of a prisoner exchange, the Jordanian government said.
The other was Ziad Karbouli, a former top aide to the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Their deaths followed the horrific footage ISIS released Tuesday that showed the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive in a cage.
CNN is not showing images of al-Kasasbeh’s killing, which drew global condemnation and prompted protests and vows of retaliation in Jordan.
“Those criminals cannot be compared to Moath,” said al-Kasasbeh’s father, Safi, referring to the prisoners’ execution. “Moath’s blood is much more valued than these two prisoners.”
He called on the Jordanian government to execute all prisoners with links to ISIS. “Annihilate this organization,” he said.
His sentiments found voice on the streets of Amman, the capital, and in the pilot’s hometown.
One demonstrator held a poster that read: “They burned our hearts, so let’s burn their dens, and their prisoners in our prisons.”
Pilot ‘gave his life defending his faith’
King Abdullah of Jordan arrived back in the country Wednesday after cutting short a visit to the United States, where he met with President Barack Obama. There were calls to gather at the airport to show support when the King arrived.
“The brave pilot gave his life defending his faith, country and nation and joined other Jordanian martyrs who gave their lives for Jordan,” King Abdullah said in a televised statement Tuesday, describing ISIS as a cowardly and deviant group that has nothing to do with Islam.
Al-Kasasbeh was captured by ISIS in December after his fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, the extremist group’s stronghold in Syria. He was participating in the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS targets.
There has apparently been concern in the past about the plan in place to extract or help save personnel who may be captured during the battle against ISIS, CNN learned Wednesday.
The United Arab Emirates, a critical partner in the coalition, has suspended its participation of airstrikes since December because leaders were worried that the search and rescue plan had operations based too far away from fighting zones in Iraq and Syria, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.
CNN reached out to the UAE government about that, and a representative said no comment would be offered.
‘An earthshaking retaliation’
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani vowed “an earthshaking retaliation” and “a revenge that equals the tragedy that has befallen the Jordanians.” But the executions of the two prisoners with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq, a precursor to ISIS, came more quickly than some observers had expected.
In previous public messages, ISIS had linked al-Rishawi to the fates of the Jordanian pilot and Kenji Goto, a Japanese hostage whose killing the militant group publicized over the weekend.
Jordan last week said it was willing to release al-Rishawi in exchange for al-Kasasbeh, but the swap never happened. The Jordanian government repeatedly asked ISIS to show proof that the pilot was still alive.
Shortly after the video of al-Kasasbeh’s killing became public, Jordanian military spokesman Mamdouh Al Amri said authorities believed the pilot had been killed as far back as January 3, before ISIS began making its public demands for the release of al-Rishawi.
Killing on big screens?
The militant group was reportedly making a big show in Raqqa of the grisly killing of the pilot. An activist network, “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently,” reported that the video was being repeatedly projected on large viewing screens across the city.
CNN couldn’t independently confirm the report.
The 22-minute ISIS video released Tuesday begins by pointing the finger at King Abdullah, suggesting he is to blame for what happened to the pilot. But analysts have predicted the brutality of the video could come back to bite ISIS.
“I think there’s likely to be a backlash, particularly in Jordan,” said Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst. “I think it’s sort of going to rally support for King Abdullah and his participation in the anti-ISIS coalition.”
ISIS is known to be holding at least two Western hostages still: John Cantlie, a British journalist who has appeared in a number of ISIS-produced videos, and an American woman who is a 26-year-old aid worker.
“People in Jordan are not interested in fighting for America in the Middle East. America is not popular in Jordan,” said CNN political commentator Peter Beinart. “But when you see a handsome Jordanian pilot from a powerful Jordanian tribe humiliated and burned to death, I think it makes the politics for the King of Jordan much, much easier for him to be involved in this coalition.”
A video unlike others
ISIS has recorded the deaths of its captives before, then circulated the gruesome footage online as propaganda. What makes the Jordanian pilot’s case different is that he hailed from a Middle Eastern nation taking part in the anti-ISIS military coalition.
The manner of execution also is different. In previous ISIS videos, captives were shown beheaded. A masked man with a London accent has appeared in at least six videos, standing near hostages.
Sometimes, ISIS has made threats over whom it will kill next.
At the end of its latest video, ISIS shows names and addresses of people who it says are Jordanian pilots. A reward is offered, and a voice says they are “wanted dead.”
“I think they’re sending a clear message to the Arab members of the coalition, and certainly Sunni Muslims who may be engaged in the fight against ISIS, that this is the way they’re going to be treated,” said Juan Zarate, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser. “They’re going to be treated brutally, and in fact, maybe perhaps more brutally than other members of the coalition.”
Father: Pilot ‘very modest’
According to the Jordan Times, a daily English-language newspaper, al-Kasasbeh, 27, was one of eight children. He was from Karak governorate and graduated from King Hussein Air College, the newspaper says.
At the time of his capture, his father told the Jordan Times that his son was “a very modest and religious person” who memorized the Quran and “was never harmful to anyone.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described al-Kasasbeh as everything he says ISIS is not: “He was brave, compassionate and principled.”
“That he was murdered after his father’s plea for compassion reminds all the world that this foe has no agenda other than to kill and destroy, and places no value on life, including that of fellow Muslims,” Kerry said.