National

Abe condemns Islamic State's slaying of Jordanian pilot

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the apparent murder of a Jordanian air force pilot by the Islamic State, and reiterated his pledge to continue Japan’s nonmilitary aid to countries contending with the militant group.

The last part of a 22-minute video posted by the jihadis shows a man who is believed to be the 26-year-old captured pilot being burned alive in a metal cage.

“We feel strong indignation as Mr. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh was brutally murdered by (the Islamic State group). . . . We feel strong anger over this inhumane, extremely despicable act of terrorism. We resolutely denounce this impermissible outrage,” Abe said in a statement.

“We should never give in to terrorism. Our country, cooperating with the international society, will expand humanitarian assistance and fulfill our responsibility in the international society combating terrorism,” he said.

The video was released while Jordanian King Abdullah II was visiting the United States.

In apparent retaliation, Jordan’s government announced later in the day it had executed two militants on death row.

One of them was Sajida al-Rishawi, whose release the militants had demanded in exchange for Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist captured by Islamic State last fall. The other was a senior al-Qaida member.

During the course of the negotiations, Amman had asked for proof the pilot was alive.

A government spokesman in Jordan, which is participating in the U.S.-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes on areas controlled by the Islamic state, said earlier in the day that Amman would deliver a “strong, earth-shaking and decisive” response, according to Reuters.

“The revenge will be as big as the calamity that has hit Jordan,” army spokesman Col. Mamdouh al Ameri said in a televised statement confirming the death of the pilot, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Jordanian state television reported that the brutal killing of the pilot took place on Jan. 3, long before the apparent negotiations started Jan. 24 between Jordan and the Islamic State to free the pilot and Goto in exchange for al-Rishawi, a failed female suicide bomber who attacked an Amman hotel in 2005.

Reports also said that a division may have emerged among the militants that may have nixed any deal.

However, if the allegation by Amman of the pilot’s Jan. 3 death is true, the Islamic State group’s main purpose in the swap negotiations may have ultimately been to shock the world and spread its propaganda, not to free the imprisoned failed bomber as it repeatedly demanded.

Asked about this possibility, a high-ranking Japanese official said that could be the case, suggesting that Japan had unconfirmed information that the pilot had been executed earlier.

“It’s not fully clear yet, but that probably explains a lot” of the extremists’ motivation, the official said.

Goto, a veteran journalist who reported extensively about everyday people suffering in war-torn countries, is believed to have been beheaded by the militant group, as claimed in a video released Sunday.

In a video released Jan. 24, the militants claimed to have killed another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, a self-styled private military contractor, after Tokyo failed to pay $200 million in ransom.

Experts say the Islamic State group is probably trying to shock the Jordanian public and thereby weaken the country’s military ties with the United States. Many Jordanians reportedly are unhappy with the decision to join the U.S.-led air operations.

Masaki Kunieda, a former Japanese ambassador to Syria and author of a book on the Islamic State, pointed out that some Jordanians have already started criticizing the government for its handling of the hostage crisis.

Islamic State “may be trying to add fuel to that criticism,” Kunieda said in a phone interview with The Japan Times.

It remains to be seen whether the criticism will grow intense enough to pressure the government to withdraw from the coalition. On the contrary, the pilot’s brutal killing could ignite sentiment against Islamic State, Kunieda said.

“Still, you need to keep watching the situation,” he said.

King Abdullah II sought Wednesday to keep Jordanians united by issuing a statement that was carried on national television.

“The brave pilot Mu’ath died in defense of his faith, homeland and nation, and joined other martyrs who fell for the sake of the country, sacrificing their lives for dear Jordan,” the king said, according to the Jordan Times.

“At this difficult time, it is the duty of all citizens to unify their ranks and show the true character of the Jordanian people when they face hardships and plights, which will only strengthen us and reinforce our unity,” he said.

The video of al-Kaseasbeh’s killing immediately drew strong condemnation from world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“As we grieve together, we must stand united, respectful of his sacrifice to defeat this scourge,” Obama said in a statement.

“Today, the coalition fights for everyone who has suffered from (the Islamic State group’s) inhumanity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Abe admitted Wednesday that Japanese officials could not determine which group had captured Goto until Jan. 20, when the first video showing the two Japanese hostages alongside a masked man appeared online.

“Disappointingly, we could not determine it was ISIL before Jan. 20,” Abe said during the Lower House Budget Committee hearing.

He was responding to questions from Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan.

ISIL is short for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, another name for the militant group.

Even so, the government did make efforts using several routes to gather information about the hostages before the appearance of the first ransom video, Abe said.

“It’s really regrettable that (the crisis) resulted this way,” Abe said, adding that as prime minister he bears all responsibility.

Abe brushed off criticism that his policy to boost “proactive contributions to peace” is raising the risk of Japanese becoming targets of terrorists.

“There is nothing wrong with proactive contributions to peace, and (the claim that this policy) will put Japanese citizens’ lives at risk is completely the opposite of the truth,” he said.

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