Jordan executes two jihadis in act of retaliation for pilot's gruesome murder

Islamic State militants released a video Tuesday showing the burning to death of a captured Jordanian pilot, igniting anger across the Arab region, but also raising doubts among US coalition allies.

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Jordanian soldiers are seen at the headquarters of the family clan of pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh in the city of Karak February 4, 2015. Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadists on Wednesday including a female militant in response to an Islamic State video showing captured al-Kassasbeh being burnt alive by the jihadist group.

Less than 12 hours after one of its pilots was shown murdered in gruesome fashion by the self-declared Islamic State, Jordan executed a pair of Iraqi prisoners Wednesday after a declaration of "punishment and revenge" against the jihadist group. 

The two Iraqi jihadis, Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziyad Karboli, had been named as possible pieces in a prisoner swap for Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh, a Jordanian whose plane crashed in northern Syria in December and was captured by IS militants. That purported deal now appears to have been a ploy: Jordan's military said Tuesday that the pilot had been killed a month ago. 

Both prisoners had been sentenced to death in Jordan years ago, the former for an attempted suicide bombing as part of an deadly attack on Amman hotels in 2005, the latter for killing a Jordanian national and working closely with former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

IS released a video on Tuesday showing the execution of Lieutenant Kassasbeh, burned to death in a metal cage. The grisly video drew broad outrage and demands for revenge from the public in Jordan, The Washington Post reports.

“This execution was un-Islamic in every sense,” said Mohammed Shalbi, or Abu Sayyef, head of the hard-line Jordanian Salafist movement, which maintains ties with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The pilot “was Muslim, his parents were Muslims and he was a prisoner of war,” the cleric said. “This killing has proven that the Islamic State are deviants from Islam, and now all of Jordan — Islamists and liberals, East Bank and West Bank — are all united against them.”

The Associated Press adds that Kassasbeh's execution was condemned across the Middle East, by political and religious leaders alike. The act of burning someone alive is forbidden in most strains of Islam, The Christian Science Monitor explains:

Most mainstream Muslim interpretations of the faith's early years believe that burning a captive alive is completely forbidden. In the video released Tuesday, IS tried to justify the act by a reference to Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th-century Muslim jurist who issued expansive rulings calling for the killing of anyone who cooperated with unjust rules. His teachings have long been cited by Al Qaeda and offshoots like IS, particularly for his ruling that Muslims who didn't practice the faith correctly could be declared non-Muslim and killed with impunity.

Still, the practical effect of the gory show, which echoes a low-budget horror movie, is already revulsion in the Middle East. The act itself would seem to narrow the potential pool of recruits to only the most sociopathic for whom such barbarism holds appeal.

The Jordanian army vowed "punishment and revenge" against IS for Kasasbeh's death, and some analysts believe the Hashemite kingdom will step up its military cooperation with the US against the group, Reuters reports. Jordan has been part of a US-led coalition launching airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, Jordan's neighbors.

But others warn that the pilot's death could sow doubt among Jordanians in the long term. "The horror of the killing, the method of killing is probably going to generate more short-term support for the state," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "But once that horror dies down, inevitably some of the questions revert on Jordan’s role in the coalition."

The New York Times notes that similar thinking led the United Arab Emirates to halt its participation in airstrikes in December, over fears for the safety of its combat pilots.

Soon after Kassasbeh was shot down, the UAE demanded that the US improve its search and rescue operations in Iraq and Syria. Though US officials reportedly said that there was not enough time to rescue the Jordanian F-16 pilot, who was “grabbed ... within just a few minutes,” UAE officials expressed doubt that the US had the capacity to rescue him even if there had been time.

The UAE's misgivings are troublesome for Washington, the Times adds:

For the United States, keeping the United Arab Emirates on board is key; Mr. Obama has insisted that the United States will not fight the Islamic State without help from Sunni Arabs. The White House is keen to present the coalition as one that includes moderate countries in the region.

The relationship with the United Arab Emirates has become especially important as United States relations with other Muslim allies like Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have grown tense. Such allies have defended their roles in the campaign despite criticism at home.

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