If verified, the brutal video marks a new level of savagery for the group, which hasn’t before claimed to have burned a hostage alive, and ends the month-long saga of the first lieutenant, whose plane crashed in late December over Islamic State-controlled Raqqa, Syria, during the American-led bombing campaign against the radical group.
Jordan state television said Tuesday night that Jordanian authorities believe Kasasbeh’s death was filmed nearly a month ago, and that was the reason for the Islamic State’s refusal to provide proof that Kasdasbeh was still alive during recent negotiations. That belief was consistent with tweets from rebel activists opposed to the Syrian government who posted on Jan. 8 that the pilot had been executed.
Jordan’s King Abdullah was in Washington but issued no statement. The Jordanian government, however, vowed revenge in a statement released in Amman, that country’s capital.
“While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians,” Mamdouh al Ameri, a government spokesman, said in a statement read on Jordanian TV.
The Arabic service of the British news network Skye News said Jordan would soon execute six prisoners aligned with the Islamic State, including Sajida al Rishawi, an Iraqi woman imprisoned in Jordan whose release the Islamic State had demanded last week. The French news service Agence France-Presse said the prisoners were to be hanged at dawn Wednesday.
Islamist groups often behead captives who’ve been convicted, fairly or not, of dire crimes in an Islamic court, and beheading is a common form of execution in Saudi Arabia, which claims the Quran as its legal code and constitution. But burning alive is a rarity, and its religious foundation was uncertain.
Jihadist supporters on social media said the justification for burning comes from a Quranic verse that authorizes Muslims to “punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed,” according to several postings on Twitter and other forums.
Zaid Benjamin, a Radio Sawa journalist who monitors extremists online, noted that the same scripture was invoked after a mob set fire to four American security contractors and strung up their charred corpses on a bridge in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. Today, Fallujah is part of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.
At the time, mainstream Muslim scholars condemned the act, saying that Islam does not allow for the desecration of corpses. The clerics also pointed out that the second part of the verse jihadists use as justification suggests that revenge isn’t the preferred reaction: “It is better for those who are patient,” the verse states.
The White House in a statement condemned the killing, even as it said U.S. authorities were attempting to verify the video. “We stand in solidarity with the government of Jordan and the Jordanian people,” the statement said.
President Barack Obama briefly addressed the killing during a forum on the Affordable Care Act at the White House. “This organization is only interested in death and destruction,” he said, referring to the Islamic State.
Kasasbeh’s execution is likely to raise tensions in Jordan, where his politically prominent family had demanded the government engage in negotiations for his release in an increasingly bizarre series of demands and counter demands that included $200 million ransom for two Japanese hostages who’ve since been executed and a demand for the release of Rishawi, who’s been on Jordan’s death row since 2005 for her part in a series of bombings that killed at least 57 people.
Kasasbeh’s fate had come to the fore only two weeks ago when one of the Japanese hostages, freelance journalist Kenji Goto, warned in an audio statement from the Islamic State that Kasasbeh would be killed if the Jordanians didn’t released Rishawi for Goto.
Jordan immediately expressed a willingness to swap Rishawi for Kasasbeh if evidence the pilot was still alive was provided, but the Islamic State counteroffer was that Rishawi be delivered by sundown last Thursday to an Islamic State controlled border crossing with Turkey or both Goto and Kasasbeh would die.
Jordan continued to press for negotiations through both tribal channels and public statements, but on Saturday, a video of Goto being killed was posted on jihadist websites.
Kasasbeh’s fate was unknown until the release of the video on Tuesday evening local time.
The Islamic State, as far as is known, has never lied about the fate of the foreign captives it has executed, starting in August with the beheading of American journalist James Foley, and there is little reason to think the gruesome video of Kasasbeh being placed in a steel cage, doused with flammable liquid and then set aflame were not accurate representations of his death.
The situation, which has dragged out in the Jordanian media as Kasasbeh’s family became vocal advocates of any trade to keep their son alive, is likely to deeply stress Jordan’s close-knit and tribal society. Yousef Kasasbeh, the pilot’s father, had demanded the release of Rishawi, describing her as “nothing,” in exchange for his son’s life, but at no time did the Islamic State promise to release Kasasbeh, but rather only promised to kill him if the exchange for Goto failed.