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Jordan warplanes strike IS after pilot murder, solidarity rally in Amman

An estimated 7,000 people take to Amman's streets in solidarity with Muaz Kasasbeh's family
Jordan warplanes hit dozens of Islamic State group targets on Thursday (MEE/AFP/Jordanian TV)

Thousands gathered in Jordan's capital Amman on Friday, a day after Jordan's warplanes launched dozens of strikes against the Islamic State group in response to the burning alive of a pilot captured in Syria.

The demonstrations, who filled a road 5km strech of road in downtown Amman, held a mass prayer ceremony followed by chants in solidarity with King Abdullah II and the family of the pilot, Muaz Kasasbeh.

Jordan's military said "dozens of jet fighters" struck IS targets on Thursday morning, "hitting training camps of the terrorist groups as well as weapons and ammunition warehouses." It did not say where the targets were located. 

However witnesses reportedly overheard King Abdullah II, who was visiting the Kasasbeh family in a traditional mourning tent set up in their hometown of Karak, telling the pilot's father that the planes were returning from the IS-held city of Raqqa, according to Reuters.  

The jets, returning from their mission, reportedly flew over the town where hundreds of people were gathered in the tent to sit with the family.

Jordan's military pledged to "destroy this terrorist group and kill the evil in its own place," saying it would punish IS "for the heinous act" of burning the pilot alive.

American F-16 and F-22 jets provided security to the Jordanian fighter planes, with additional support from refuelling tankers and surveillance aircraft, US officials said.

In Washington, a US defence official told AFP the military has deployed aircraft and troops to northern Iraq to boost capabilities to rescue downed coalition pilots.

Jordan has conducted regular raids against IS across the border in Syria as part of a US-led campaign against the Sunni militant group.

The news came as scores of people were killed when rebels unleashed rocket fire on Damascus and President Bashar al-Assad's forces retaliated.

From withdrawal to annihilation

Last week, when the fate of his son was still unknown, Safi Kasabeh told reporters that he strongly condemned Jordan’s participation in the US-led coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria.

His son, the retired education professor told National Public Radio, should never have been bombing Syria in the first place.

"I wasn't OK with it at all," he said.

There were echoes of Kasabeh’s sentiments earlier this week as members of his tribe and residents of his hometown gathered near the royal palace in Amman after learning of the IS video showing that the 26-year-old had been burnt alive.

"The decision to join the coalition was made in the West; they destroyed Iraq before and now they are trying to destroy Syria,” a middle-aged man told Middle East Eye. “I call for a march of a million tomorrow to withdraw Jordan from the coalition.”

A former MP, Ali al Dalalaeen, also urged caution in the hours following the release of the video.

"I think the coalition is a political movement to drag Jordan into a war. We can't just have any reaction, we need our reaction to be something we think about."

In the days since – and after the execution of two prisoners linked to IS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq – the pilot’s father has demanded that IS be “annihilated”, according to CNN.

It’s a sentiment that seems to be shared by many of the Jordanian public who have expressed their support for stepped-up Jordanian military action in the days following the gruesome murder of Kasasbeh, captured by IS in December after his F-16 crashed in Syria.

"Jordan will wage all-out war to protect our principles and values," government newspaper Al-Rai wrote in an editorial.

IS had offered to spare Kasasbeh's life and free Japanese journalist Kenji Goto - who was later beheaded - in exchange for would-be bomber Sajida al-Rishawi's release.

Rishawi, 44, was sentenced to death for her role in triple hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people.

She was closely linked to IS's predecessor organisation in Iraq, and seen as an important symbol for the militants.

Jordanian television suggested Kasasbeh was killed on 3 January, before IS offered to spare him and free Goto in return for Rishawi's release.

‘Repositioning assets’

Following the airman's capture, another member of the US-led coalition, the United Arab Emirates, withdrew from air strike missions over fears for the safety of its pilots, a US official said.

On Thursday, the US military said it was "repositioning some assets" to northern Iraq in a move designed to shorten the response time needed to reach pilots who end up in IS-held territory, officials said.

US President Barack Obama, who hosted King Abdullah in a hastily organised meeting before his return to Jordan, decried the "cowardice and depravity" of IS.

Benjamin Netanyahu also extended his condolences to the king in a phone call on Thursday, the Israeli premier's office said.

IS had previously beheaded two US journalists, an American aid worker and two British aid workers in similar videos. It has also killed a second Japanese hostage.

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