Jordan pilot held by IS ‘burned to death’ in video

Anwar Tarawneh, centre, the wife of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, holds his portrait in tribute after he was executed by IS militants. Picture: Getty

Anwar Tarawneh, centre, the wife of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, holds his portrait in tribute after he was executed by IS militants. Picture: Getty

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A JORDANIAN pilot is burned to death by his Islamic State (IS) captors in a horrific video posted online by the extremist group last night.

The footage, released after a week of speculation over a possible prisoner exchange, appears to show Flight Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh standing in a metal cage before being engulfed in flames.

The pilot was captured by IS when his plane came down near the group’s Raqqa stronghold in Syria in December while on a mission in support of US-led air strikes.

The 20-minute piece of footage, which bears the logo of the extremist group’s al-­Furqan media service, features the slick production and graphics used in previous IS videos.

Flt Lt Kaseasbeh shows signs of having been beaten, including a black eye. Near the end of the footage, he is shown wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing in an outdoor cage.

A masked militant lights a line of fuel leading to him.

Jordan had previously said it was prepared to trade its prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, an al-Qaeda activist, for the 26-year-old pilot. Rishawi faces the death penalty in Jordan for her role in a 2005 hotel attack that killed 60 people.

A spokesman for the Jordanian armed forces confirmed the death of the “hero pilot” and vowed revenge.

In a statement read on Jordanian TV, Mamdouh al-Ameri said: “While 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.”

The IS group, which controls around a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, has released a series of videos showing the killing of captives, including two British aid workers, two American journalists and an American aid worker.

On Saturday, footage was released showing Japanese journalist Kenji Goto being beheaded by the militants. Yesterday’s video was the first to show a ­captive being burned alive.

Michael Haines, brother of the murdered Scottish IS hostage David Haines, from Perth, said: “My heart is filled with sadness yet again to hear of the ­savage murder of another hostage by the terrorists.

“Firstly, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Muath al-Kaseasbeh. I know only too well the feelings of loss, anger and disbelief they must be experiencing right now. I share their pain.

“The murder of Muath al-Kaseasbeh once more shows the unmerciful nature of these criminals.

“The world must come and stand together in the rejection of the fear the terrorists are attempting to spread. Only when we are all united against this vile threat will we defeat it.”

US President Barack Obama described the latest video as evidence of the group’s “viciousness and barbarity”.

He said the killing would ­“redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of our global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated”.

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the “sickening murder”. Writing on Twitter, he said: “Muath al-Kaseasbeh’s sickening murder will only strengthen our resolve to defeat Isil [IS]. My prayers are with his family tonight.”

Flt Lt Kaseasbeh fell into the hands of the militants in December when his Jordanian Air Force F-16 crashed near Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS’s self-styled caliphate.

He is the only pilot from the coalition battling the group to have been captured.

The video appeared to be aimed at testing Jordan’s continuing participation in the US-led coalition against IS.

The country’s King Abdullah has portrayed the campaign against the extremists as a battle about values but the air strikes against fellow Muslims are not popular in Jordan.

At a tribal meeting place yesterday, where the pilot’s relatives have waited for weeks for word of his fate, chants against the king erupted and some family members wept. An uncle shouted in Arabic: “I received a phone call from the chief of staff saying God bless his soul.”

An audio message last week, also purportedly from the IS group, said the pilot would be killed if Rishawi was not released on Thursday, without ­actually proposing a swap.

A scroll on Jordan TV said that the pilot was killed on 3 January, raising questions over whether any of the hostage negotiations were sincere.

David L Phillips, a former US state department adviser on the Middle East, said he believes the killing of the pilot could backfire, antagonising Sunni Muslims against IS, including Sunni tribes in Iraq.

“They need to have a welcome from Sunni Arabs in Anbar Province [in Iraq] to maintain their operations,” said Mr Phillips, director of the Programme on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University.

He said the extremist group’s recent military setbacks may have fuelled the killings.

“They need to compensate for that with increasingly gruesome killings of prisoners,” he said.

Jordan has made clear that the hostage crisis will not prompt it to leave the US-led military ­coalition against IS.

Experts are divided over whether Jordan faces a greater threat from extremists outside its borders or from those within. In recent months, there have been signs of greater support for IS ideas among Jordan’s young and poor.

Last year, the government intensified a crackdown on IS sympathisers and the al-Qaeda branch in Syria.

Currently, about 220 Jordanians are in prison because of alleged ties to such groups, including 30 who are serving terms from three to five years.

King Abdullah of Jordan was last night cutting short a trip to the US to return and oversee the response to the murder.

The Prince of Wales is due to visit Jordan as part of a tour of the region later this month.

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