Jordan Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria, as King Visits Slain Pilot's Family

Airstrikes target Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites; Jordan threatens that 'this is just the beginning.'

Reuters

Jordanian fighter jets Thursday pounded Islamic State hideouts in Syria and then roared over the hometown of a pilot killed by the militants while King Abdullah consoled the victim’s family below.

The monarch told the pilot’s father the planes were returning from the city of Raqqa — an ISIS stronghold — and the military pledged to keep up the attacks until the militants were defeated.

Video released this week showed the pilot being burned to death in a cage, setting off a wave of anger in Jordan and the region.

According to unconfirmed reports, dozens of Islamic State combatants were killed in the airstrikes, which also targeted ISIS headquarter sites, training areas and weapon-storage depots.

State TV showed footage of the strikes, including one that set off a large ball of fire. It showed two pilots scribbling messages in chalk on missiles.

“For you, the enemies of Islam,” read one message. According to a statement read on state TV, the Jordanians would continue “until we eliminate them.”

The military said all targets were destroyed, but it did not give details on whether the strikes where carried out against Islamic State positions in Syria or Iraq. Islamic State, also known as ISIL as well as ISIS, controls about one-third of each country.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani denied reports that King Abdullah himself, a trained pilot, had led the airstrikes against the Islamic State.

Jordan is part of the coalition against ISIS, and the plane of the executed pilot — Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh — was shot down when he was attacking organization targets in Syria.

Jordanian sources said Thursday the air force would increase its attacks on ISIS and strike bigger strategic targets. They said the army had moved large forces, including armored vehicles, toward the Iraqi border and set up camps, while combat helicopters scanned the frontier.

Jordanian officials say the army is not expected to launch a large ground operation; rather, it will send in special units on missions the officials described as “surgical” —  in coordination with the coalition.

King Abdullah was paying a condolence visit to the family of the slain pilot in southern Jordan when his fighter jets roared overhead. The king pointed upward, toward the planes, as he sat next to the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh.

The mourning atmosphere continued in Jordan and Friday’s sermon, which will be made in all the kingdom’s mosques, will be dedicated to the slain pilot. Imams have been instructed to speak of Islam’s principles and stress that the Islamic State is a terror group that does not represent the Muslim nation.

Thousands of Jordanians flocked to pay their respects in a part of the country where influential tribes form a key pillar of the country’s Hashemite monarchy and supply the army and security forces with manpower.

Several Arab leaders worldwide denounced Kaseabeh’s murder including the Syrian Foreign Ministry. Hezbollah also issued a statement of denunciation and condolences to the Jordanian people and spoke of the importance of fighting groups like ISIS.

Also Thursday, Jordan released an influential jihadi cleric, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdesi, who was detained in October after speaking out against Jordan’s participation in the anti-ISIS coalition, according to his lawyer, Moussa al-Abdallat.

Jordan’s Islamic militants are split between supporters of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of Al-Qaida in Syria.