Jordan executed two al-Qaeda prisoners by hanging yesterday after Islamic State (IS) militants put to death a captured fighter pilot by burning him alive in a cage.
The gruesome killing of 26-year-old Flight Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh, captured while participating in airstrikes by a US-led coalition targeting the militants, sparked outrage across the Middle East and anti-IS protests in Jordan.
Following the pilot’s death, Jordan launched what it said would be a tough campaign against the IS group.
In a first response, Jordan executed Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouly, two Iraqis linked to al-Qaeda.
Rishawi had been sentenced to death after her 2005 role in a triple hotel bombing that killed 60 people in Amman and was orchestrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the IS group. Karbouly was sent to death row in 2008 for plotting terror attacks on Jordanians in Iraq.
Militants from IS, also known as Isil, had purportedly demanded that Jordan release Rishawi in exchange for the pilot. Over the past week, Jordan had offered to trade her, but froze any swap after failing to receive proof the pilot was alive.
Jordan now believes that the airman was killed in the early days of January, said government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani. He said the assessment is based on additional intelligence information but did not elaborate.
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Flt Lt Kaseasbeh had fallen into the hands of the militants when his F-16 crashed near Raqqa in Syria.
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-Kaseasbeh, urged his government to “take revenge for Muath and to take revenge for the country, even before Muath”.
King Abdullah II, a staunch Western ally, returned home yesterday from a White House meeting with president Barack Obama during which both leaders affirmed their resolve to destroy the militants who have seized a third of Syria and Iraq.
Jordan believes the international community must intensify the campaign against IS, said government spokesman Mr Momani. “This evil can and should be defeated,” he said.
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 IS 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 the IS 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.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the pilot’s murder would only serve to redouble efforts to “eradicate the evil” of the group.
He said: “I am appalled and saddened by Isil’s sadistic murder of Muath al-Kaseasbeh.
“I extend my deepest sympathy to his family and friends and the people of Jordan as they mourn their loss. This latest depravity will only redouble international determination to eradicate the evil that is Isil.”
In a statement released by Downing Street, David Cameron said: “We stand in solidarity with our Jordanian friends and we will continue to work with them and our other coalition partners to defeat Isil.”