Father of captured Jordanian pilot makes heartfelt plea to Daesh for his son's release

Published December 24th, 2014 - 08:09 GMT

The father of a Jordanian pilot captured by Isis has issued a heartfelt plea to the militants to release him, as concerned relatives gathered in front of his family home.

Jihadists captured First Lieutenant Mu'ath Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh after his warplane was brought down while conducting airstrikes over Syria, the Jordanian military said.

Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani told The Associated Press that the plane was shot down by 'ground fire' but did not elaborate. 

It was the first instance of a foreign soldier falling into the group's hands since the US-led coalition began its air campaign against the extremists. 

Mr Joseph Kasasbeh, a retired education director, told Saraya News that he hoped Isis would be compassionate.

He said: 'I pray to God to instill compassion in your hearts.'

His plea came as distraught relatives gathered outside the pilot's family home, anxious to hear the latest news about him.

The Raqqa Media Center published a photograph said to be of the pilot - in a white shirt, naked from the waist down and sopping wet - being pulled by gunmen out of what appeared to be a lake.

Another picture shows him surrounded by more than a dozen fighters, some of them masked. The center said IS fighters are scouring the area in case there is a second pilot. 

The pilot's capture raises a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which has been sharply criticized by militant sympathizers for its participation. IS in the past has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured in operations around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons.

Jordan's military said in a statement that as its air force was carrying out a military mission against the Islamic State group Wednesday morning, 'one of our warplanes crashed,' it said. 'The pilot was taken hostage by the Daesh terrorist organization,' it added, using the Arabic acronym for the Isalmic State group.

It said IS and 'those who support it' will be responsible for the safety of the pilot.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had confirmation from activists on the ground that the aircraft was shot down.

Earlier Independent Defence Analyst Paul Beaver warned that Isis is capable of downing warplanes.

He told MailOnline: 'Isis do have the capability to hit aircraft, as they have surface-to-air missiles and heavy machine guns.'

It was not immediately known how the fighters shot down the warplane. But the Islamic State group is known to have stocks of Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles. 

The shoulder-fired weapon has long been in the Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals - it was used during the 1991 Gulf War by Iraqi forces to down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters. 

The Raqqa Media Center, an agency of activists that operates openly in IS-ruled areas with permission of the group, said the plane was downed near the village of Hamra Ghannam outside Raqqa. 

It posted photos of militants posing with shards of wreckage and the canopy being loaded onto a van and then placed in the centre of Raqqa seemingly as a trophy. 

It also posted a phot of the pilot's military identification card, identifying him as First Lieutenant Mu'ath Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh, aged 27.

In Jordan, the pilot's cousin Marwan al-Kaseasbeh confirmed by telephone with The Associated Press that the photos are of his cousin. 

A friend said Kasaesbeh, who is from a prominent Jordanian family, was fervent in his commitment to his mission and felt it was a religious duty to fight extremist groups such as Islamic State that were 'distorting the true spirit of Islam'. 

Momani said al-Kaseasbeh, who got married in July, was 'a symbol of heroism and sacrifice'. He added that 'the war on terrorism will continue', saying that the fight with the extremists was 'to defend the Islamic religion'.

The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State group in Syria since September 23, and US and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. 

The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a 'caliphate.'

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria strikes, with Qatari logistical support.

Staunch US ally Jordan has provided a logistics base for the US-led air campaign and is a hub for intelligence-gathering operations against the jihadists, a western diplomatic source said.

King Abdullah has been in the forefront of regional US allies supportive of the campaign but has said radical Sunni extremists cannot defeated by military means alone and their ideology must be confronted with reason.  

In Washington, a Pentagon official said they are aware of the claims being made over social media that a pilot has been shot down, but they could not confirm the report at this time.

The official said any further questions about the alleged capture should be referred to the government of Jordan. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the reports by name. 

By Ted Thornhill

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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