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Thousands Rally in Memory of Slain Pilot as Jordan Expands Airstrikes Against the Islamic State to Iraq

Jordan's King Abdullah II has vowed to bomb the militant group until his military runs "out of fuel and bullets."

by Alice Speri
Feb 6 2015, 9:29pm

Photo by Nasser Nasser/AP

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of Amman Friday in honor of Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, the Jordanian air force pilot who was brutally burned to death by the Islamic State. The militants released video of the the pilot's immolation earlier this week.

The crowd carried Jordanian flags and banners in support of the king's promise of a tough response to the killing. "We all stand united with the Hashemite leadership in facing terrorism," one banner read.

Jordanian leaders had promised an "earth-shaking" response to the pilot's killing and they swiftly delivered. Within hours of the video's release, authorities executed two high-profile Islamic State prisoners and conducted a series of airstrikes on militant targets in the town of Al Shadadi, Syria Thursday. On Friday, officials announced their raids had now expanded to Iraq.

The video below, filmed by local news organization Maqar, shows a large rally, which was also attended by Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

Jordan executes two militants and vows 'earth-shaking' response to Islamic State. Read more here.

Jordanian authorities also released footage of the air force's strikes on Al Shadadi, near the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa, in a heavily edited video that appears to be in direct response to the one published by the militants a few days earlier.

In the Jordanian video, an unidentified pilot can be seen holding a piece of paper that reads: "Do not believe that God is unaware of the actions of the unjust," while others write messages on the planes and missiles, including one reading: "For you, the enemies of Islam."

Jordanian officials confirmed they had carried out airstrikes, but did not reveal details about the target locations.

Jordan has been a member of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State since September, but officials pledged to step-up airstrikes in response to Kasaesbeh's killing, to broad support from the Jordanian public. 

On Friday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh also announced their airstrikes had now expanded to Iraq, saying: "We've been attacking targets in both countries."

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a man and two children were killed as a result of coalition strikes in Al Shadadi on February 5 — though the US Department of Defense denied that US and coalition military forces were involved in that offensive, saying the only authorized strike was conducted on Kobane Thursday.

The Islamic State alleged Friday that a female US hostage — believed to be Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian worker who has been missing in Syria since August 2013 — was killed during the Jordanian airstrikes.

"The failed Jordanian aircraft killed an American female hostage," the group claimed in a message published by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist activity. "No mujahid was injured in the bombardment, and all praise is due to Allah."

The Jordanian government reportedly said it was highly skeptical those claims were true. American officials said they were looking into the allegations.

The militants also released several alleged pictures of that strike on social media.

Islamic State video claims to show Jordanian pilot being burned alive. Read more here.

Following the release of the video of Kasaesbeh's death, Jordan's King Abdullah II, a former commander of Jordan's special forces — which regularly train alongside US forces — vowed to bomb the Islamic State until his military runs "out of fuel and bullets."

The king, who served in the military for 35 years and earned the nickname "warrior king," also shared the photo below of himself dressed in military fatigues on his Facebook account. Jordanian officials reportedly denied the king is directly involved in the strikes.

On Thursday, the king met with Kasaesbeh's family in the slain pilot's hometown of Al Karak. 

On Friday, Jordan released Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, an Islamist cleric and a spiritual guide for many al Qaeda members, who had been held in detention for three months.

Upon his release, Maqdisi — who implied he had been assisting in the failed prisoner swap negotiations between Jordan and the Islamic State to try and bring Kasaesbeh home — slammed the Islamic State militants, saying their actions were "not acceptable in any religion."

"During my communication, they lied and they were evasive," he said of the militant group. "They acted like they were interested (in a swap), but in fact they were not interested."

Maqdisi also condemned the militants for being a divisive force within Islam in an interview with Jordanian TV station Roya.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi