Jordanian jets strike Islamic State in east Syria

Protesters in Amman express their anger at the murder of pilot Flt Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Picture: STR
Protesters in Amman express their anger at the murder of pilot Flt Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Picture: STR
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JORDANIAN fighter jets have returned home after carrying out missions, state-run TV reported yesterday.

There was no immediate word on what the missions were or where they took place, but a government spokesman said most targets would be in eastern Syria.

“The plan… is to go after [Islamic State, or IS] targets in order to degrade them and defeat them,” spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said. “We want to make sure that they will pay for the crime they did and the atrocity they did to our pilot.”

Mr Al-Momani said the air strikes were being co-ordinated with coalition allies. Jordan is riding a wave of anger following the brutal killing of one of its pilots by IS. A video posted by the group showed Flight Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive while confined in a cage, with the 27-year-old’s family calling for revenge. The air strikes came as mourners by the thousands poured into Fl Lt Kaseasbeh’s hometown, the village of Ay, to pay their respects.

King Abdullah II led a delegation of high-level dignitaries and senior tribesman. War planes roared overhead as the king paid a condolence visit to the family of the pilot. The king pointed at the aircraft as he sat next to the victim’s father. King Abdullah has said Jordan’s response “will be harsh because this terrorist organisation is not only fighting us, but also fighting Islam and its pure values”. In a statement, he pledged to hit the militants “hard in the very centre of their strongholds”.

Yesterday’s military response comes a day after Jordan executed two prisoners – Sajida al-Rishawi, a would-be suicide bomber whose release IS had previously demanded as part of a prisoner exchange, and Ziad Karbouli, a former top aide to the deceased leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

At the time, the pilot’s father demanded that his country do more.

“These were criminals and there is no comparison between them and Muath. His blood is more valued than Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad Karbouli,” Flt Lt Kaseasbeh’s father, Safi, said. “I demand that revenge should be bigger than executing prisoners.” His son’s horrific death was recorded, and the video was posted online Tuesday.

King Abdullah has promised a strong response, saying that IS isn’t just fighting his nation, but warring against “noble Islam”. The country now wants to step up air strikes against the terrorist organisation, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. But the pilot’s uncle, Yassin al-Rawashdeh, said that he also wants to see ground troops involved in the US-led coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria. Demonstrators took to the streets in Amman and the pilot’s hometown immediately after the video was made public.

One protester held a poster that read: “They burned our hearts, so let’s burn their dens, and their prisoners in our prisons.”

Mr Momani, the government spokesman, vowed that Jordan would deliver “an earthshaking retaliation” and “a revenge that equals the tragedy that has befallen the Jordanians”.

Exactly what that response will look like remains to be seen, although the outlines of it are starting to take shape.

Jordan is part of a US-led military coalition which has bombed IS targets since last autumn, but until now Jordanian war planes were only known to have carried out raids in Syria.

In Washington, leading members of the US Congress have called for increased US military assistance to the kingdom.

Currently, the US is providing Jordan with $1 billion (£650 million) annually in economic and military assistance.