WASHINGTON, February 3, 2015 — The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) today released a video purportedly showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh burned alive inside a cage.
Sources are now reporting that Jordan and ISIS were only hours away from a prisoner swap, with Jordan releasing convicted Iraqi terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for al-Kaseasbeh.
According to U.S. government sources, the video was likely made in January, suggesting al-Kaseasbeh was murdered last month.
ISIS had been negotiating with Jordan to release the pilot – even though he apparently was no longer alive. ISIS had refused to provide Jordan with “proof of life” video of al-Kaseasbeh, which had complicated the prisoner swap. However, after ISIS beheaded Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, Jordan became more desperate to win the pilot’s release, and reportedly was moving forward even without that proof.
The slickly produced video is 22 minutes long and includes horrific screaming from al-Kaseasbeh while ISIS members chant during the execution.
The spokesman for Jordan’s armed forces condemned the murder and promised “punishment and revenge” in retaliation. He added, “While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain,” he said in a statement read on Jordanian TV.
Jordan previously announced it would “hang” all prisoners with ties to ISIS if the group executed al-Kaseasbeh. It now says it will execute al-Rishawi at dawn on Wednesday.
ISIS calls al-Rishawi “an imprisoned sister.” She was arrested by Jordanian authorities after her suicide belt failed to detonate at a Jordanian hotel during a wedding in 2005. She was sentenced to death in 2006. However, that same year, Jordan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. The country resumed executions in December 2014.
Jordan faces a difficult dilemma in responding to the murder.
Doing nothing creates the appearance of weakness and could make Jordan even more vulnerable to ISIS attacks.
However, Jordan is already walking a tightrope regarding ISIS and taking action could have repercussions.
ISIS leads its latest video with an attack on Jordan’s King Abdullah. ISIS regularly condemns the King, and calls him “The Jordanian Tyrant.” They also scold him for kowtowing to the United States.
The murder of the pilot risks undermining already weak public support for Jordan’s involvement in anti-ISIS operations. The public has already reacted against the King for failing to rescue the pilot sooner, and has suggested that the pilot was only in danger because of Jordan’s anti-ISIS actions.
Shortly after he was shot down, there were several anti-coalition protests demanding that the King end support for anti-ISIS efforts.
A poll by the Center for Strategic and International Studies published last summer showed that less than 62% of Jordanians consider ISIS a terrorist organization. Under 40% consider al-Qaeda a terrorist organization.
Muin Khoury, a Jordanian pollster, told the Guardian that many in Jordan believe the United States and Israel have put Islam under attack, and they do not agree with Jordan’s involvement in anti-ISIS actions. Jordanians also see ISIS as an important force fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Additionally, international organizations estimate that between 2,000 and 2,500 Jordanians are currently fighting with ISIS.
If Jordan follow through on its threat to execute all prisoners, it would likely serve as a recruiting tool and increase support for the group. It could also make Jordan a higher target for terrorist attacks.
Ironically, executing even the highest profile prisoners would have little negative impact on ISIS. No prisoners currently in Jordanian jails are decision-makers for the group. None are critical for ISIS operations, nor are they important ideological leaders for the group.
Moreover, for ISIS, the “victory” is the same whether it wins release of a prisoner, or whether it hails a dead member as a martyr.
In Jordan, on the other hand, there is no turning back from the brutal murder of a pilot at the hands of terrorists.