Father pleads with ISIL to free Jordanian pilot

US dismisses militant group's claim that fighter jet taking part in airstrikes was shot down.
The Jordanian pilot Maaz Al Kassesbeh was captured by ISIL after his plane crashed near the Syrian city of Raqqa on December 24, 2014.  Jordan News Agency / EPA
The Jordanian pilot Maaz Al Kassesbeh was captured by ISIL after his plane crashed near the Syrian city of Raqqa on December 24, 2014. Jordan News Agency / EPA

AMMAN // The father of a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIL in Syria pleaded for his son’s release on Thursday, as Washington denied claims the miltants shot his jet out of the sky.

Maaz Al Kassasbeh, 26-year-old first lieutenant in the Jordanian air force, was captured by ISIL on Wednesday after his F-16 jet crashed while on a mission against the militants over northern Syria.

His father, Youssef, urged the militants “to host my son ... with generous hospitality”.

“I ask God that their hearts are gathered together with love, and that he is returned to his family, wife and mother,” he told reporters in the Jordanian capital, adding, “We are all Muslims.”

ISIL has so far said nothing about Lt Al Kassasbeh’s fate after gunmen from the group dragged him away following his crash.

An activist in Raqqa said ISIL militants were divided over the fate of the Lt Al Kassasbeh’s, with more extremist foreign fighters wanting him executed and others wanting him kept alive.

His capture – and the potential hostage situation – presents a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the extremist group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives and local rivals.

“The Jordanian government ... is making all efforts with several crisis cells to free [the pilot],” government daily Al Rai said in an editorial on Thursday.

“We are confident that our brave one will be released ... He has not been forgotten.”

Jordan, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, has joined the US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes in Syria against ISIL.

Lt Kassasbeh’s plane went down near Raqqa, a city which ISIL has used as its de facto capital and where coalition warplanes have carried out regular strikes.

It was the first warplane lost and the first capture of a serviceman since the coalition launched strikes in Syria in September.

The militants and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the plane was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile, raising concerns for other coalition planes flying in the area.

But the US military dismissed the claim, saying “evidence clearly suggests that ISIL did not down the aircraft”.

“We strongly condemn the actions of ISIL, which has taken captive the downed pilot,” US Central Command chief General Lloyd Austin said.

“We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery, and will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

The plane crash and capture of its pilot was a major propaganda victory for the Sunni extremist group, which released several photographs parading the captured pilot.

Despite the loss of the plane, the coalition was reported to have launched further airstrikes.

The Observatory, which monitors Syria’s conflict with a wide range of local sources, said four strikes had been carried out late on Thursday against ISIL positions in Kobani, where Syrian Kurdish fighters have been holding off an ISIL offensive.

Several other coalition strikes took place at Bukamal near the Iraqi border, it said.

Elsewhere in Syria at least 30 ISIL fighters were killed in clashes with Kurdish militia in the north-eastern Hasakeh province, it said.

ISIL has committed widespread atrocities in areas under its control, including mass executions of captured soldiers and public beheadings of hostages including western journalists and aid workers.

Syria’s conflict began in 2011 as a peaceful revolt against President Bashar Al Assad but evolved into a multi-front civil war that led to the emergence of ISIL and its expansion into Iraq.

* Agence France Presse and Associated Press

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM


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