Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group circulated images on social media on Tuesday which they claimed showed a Jordanian hostage being burned alive.
Shortly afterwards, a member of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh’s family told Reuters the head of the Jordanian armed forces had informed them he had been killed.
The highly produced 22-minute video released online showed images of a man purported to be Kassasbeh, who was captured by ISIS in December, engulfed in flames inside a metal cage.
The authenticity of the images could not be confirmed at this time.
Jordanian state television reported the Jordanian government had confirmed that the pilot had been killed on January 3. The Jordanian government hasn’t yet publicly stated if it knew how Kassasbeh had been killed.
Kassasbeh, a 26-year-old first lieutenant in the Jordanian air force, was captured on December 24 after his F-16 jet crashed while on a mission over northern Syria as part of a US-led coalition against the jihadists.
The video released on Tuesday shows footage of Kassasbeh sitting at a table discussing coalition operations against ISIS, with flags from the various Western and Arab countries in the alliance projected in the background.
It then shows Kassasbeh dressed in an orange jumpsuit and surrounded by armed and masked ISIS fighters in camouflage.
It cuts to footage allegedly showing Kassasbeh standing inside the cage and apparently soaked in petrol before a masked jihadist uses a torch to light a trail of flame that runs to the cage and burns him alive.
Fighters then pour debris, including broken masonry, over the cage which a bulldozer then flattens, with the body still inside.
The news comes two days after ISIS announced it had beheaded Japanese hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, after previously murdering another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.
An audio message that appeared to be from Goto last week said Kassasbeh would be killed if Jordan did not release Iraqi Sajida al-Rishawi, even though Kassasbeh had been killed before ISIS asked for the swap to take place. Jordan had offered to free Rishawi, who was convicted for her part in triple-hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people, if ISIS released Kassasbeh. Amman insisted on proof that the pilot was alive before any exchange.
Jordan will execute Rishawi on Wednesday, an official said.
“The sentence of death pending on… Iraqi Sajida al-Rishawi will be carried out at dawn,” the security official said on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Jordan, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are taking part in US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands are participating in Iraq.
Jordan vowed a “strong, earth-shaking and decisive” response, the government spokesman said a statement.
The Jordanian military also pledged to avenge Kassasbeh’s death.
“The blood of the martyr will not have been shed in vain and… vengeance will be proportional to this catastrophe that has struck all Jordanians,” said army spokesman General Mamdouh al-Amiri.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah cut a visit to the United States short after news of Kassasbeh’s death emerged.
US President Barack Obama immediately denounced the purported killing.
“Should in fact this video be authentic, it’s just one more indication of the viciousness (and) barbarity of this organization,” Obama said.
“Whatever ideology they’re operating off of, it’s bankrupt,” Obama told reporters.
He said it would “redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of the global coalition to make sure” ISIS is “ultimately defeated.”
ISIS, which has declared a “caliphate” in territories in seized in Syria and Iraq, has killed thousands of citizens and soldiers in both countries. It has particularly targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as well as foreign hostages, some of them in highly-choreographed videotaped sequences in which the victims are beheaded.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)