AMMAN – King Abdullah II vowed Jordan will take tough action after hanging two convicted militants Wednesday in response to the burning alive of one of its pilots by the Islamic State group.
The gruesome murder of airman Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh triggered international condemnation and prompted Jordan to execute two Iraqis on death row —female would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi and al-Qaida operative Ziad al-Karboli.
Abdullah cut short a visit to the United States and flew back to Amman, where he was greeted by large crowds at the airport before meeting with his security chiefs.
“The blood of martyr Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh will not be in vain and the response of Jordan and its army after what happened to our dear son will be severe,” he said afterward, quoted by the royal court.
Speaking to AFP, Information Minister Mohammad al-Momani said the kingdom was “more determined than ever to fight the terrorist group Daesh,” using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The statements came after Jordan said it hanged Rishawi and Karboli before dawn at a prison south of the capital.
Amman had promised to begin executing Islamic extremists in response to the murder of Kaseasbeh, the 26-year-old who was captured by Islamic State forces when his F-16 fighter plane went down in Syria in December.
The Islamic State group had offered to spare his life and free Japanese journalist Kenji Goto — who was later beheaded — in exchange for Rishawi’s release.
In a highly choreographed 22-minute video released Tuesday, Kaseasbeh is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit surrounded by armed and masked jihadis before he appears inside a metal cage apparently soaked in gasoline.
One of the jihadis lights a trail of flame that runs into the cage and burns him alive.
The video — the most brutal yet in a series of recorded killings of hostages by Islamic State — prompted global revulsion and vows of unwavering international efforts to combat the Sunni Muslim extremists.
The killing sparked outrage in Jordan and demonstrations in Amman and the city of Karak, the home of Kaseasbeh’s influential tribe.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning, called for the “killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs” of Islamic State militants, expressing outrage over their “cowardly act.”
The hangings came just weeks after Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty.
They were criticized by rights campaigners, with Amnesty International saying executions should not be used “as a tool for revenge.”
Rishawi, 44, was sentenced to death for her participation in triple hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people.
She was closely linked to Islamic State’s predecessor organization in Iraq and seen as an important symbol for the jihadis.
Karboli was sentenced to death in 2007 on terrorism charges, including the killing of a Jordanian in Iraq.
Jordan, a crucial ally of Washington, is one of several Arab countries that have joined a U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.
The New York Times, quoting U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates had suspended its participation in December after Kassasbeh’s capture due to fears for the safety of its pilots.
There was no official confirmation of the report.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who had hosted Abdullah in a hastily organized meeting before his return to Jordan, led condemnation of the airman’s killing, decrying the “cowardice and depravity” of Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the brutality of the jihadis was “beyond comprehension.”
“It has nothing to do with our religion.”
The Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by influential preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, described the murder as “a crime contrary to sharia” Islamic law.
Kaseasbeh was captured on Dec. 24 when his jet crashed in northern Syria on a mission that was part of the coalition air campaign against the jihadists.
Jordanian state television suggested he was killed on Jan. 3, before Islamic State offered to spare his life and free Goto in return for Rishawi’s release.
Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman called the killing “inhuman and contrary to Islam.”
His country, the spiritual home of Islam and another member of the coalition, condemned the “misguided ideology” behind Kassasbeh’s murder and accused groups like Islamic State of seeking “to distort the values of Islam.”
The UAE said the actions of Islamic State “represent epidemics that must be eradicated by civilised societies without delay”.
The jihadis had previously beheaded two U.S. journalists, an American aid worker and two British aid workers in similar videos.
Islamic State has seized swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and last year declared a caliphate in areas under its control, imposing its brutal interpretation of Islam and committing widespread atrocities.
In the Syrian border town of Kobani, Kurdish fighters who recently drove out Islamic State elements with help from coalition airstrikes held a minute’s silence for Kaesasbeh.
“He is one of Kobani’s martyrs,” said activist Mustafa Ebdi.