Jordan Executes Sajida al-Rishawi After ISIS Burns Pilot Alive

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Palestinians gather in front of the house of Jordan's Ambassador to Palestine Khaled Shawabkeh to stage a protest after a video was published, allegedly showing the execution of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh by ISIS, on February 03, 2015 in Ramallah, West Bank. Anadolu/Issam Rimawi

Published Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Updated at 5:22 pm (GMT +2): Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadists on Wednesday, including a female militant, in response to an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) video appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive by the group.

ISIS had demanded the release of the woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for a Japanese hostage, who was later killed. Sentenced to death in 2005 for her a role in a suicide bomb attack in Amman, Rishawi was executed at dawn, a security source and state television said.

Jordan, which is part of the US-led coalition against ISIS, has promised an "earth-shaking response" to the killing of its pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was captured in December when his F-16 crashed over northeastern Syria.

Authorities also executed a senior al-Qaeda operative, Iraqi citizen Ziyad Karboli, who had been sentenced to death in 2008 after being convicted for killing a Jordanian, said a security source who declined to be identified.

The fate of Kassasbeh, a member of a large tribe that forms the backbone of support for the country's Hashemite monarchy, has gripped Jordan for weeks and some Jordanians have criticized King Abdullah for embroiling them in the US-led war that they say will provoke a militant backlash.

The Jordanian army has vowed to avenge his death, and some analysts believe it could escalate its involvement in the campaign against ISIS, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, Jordan's neighbors to the north and east.

Kassasbeh's father said the two executions were not enough and urged the government to do more to avenge his death. "I want the state to get revenge for my son's blood through more executions of those people who follow this criminal group that shares nothing with Islam," Safi al-Kassasbeh said.

"Jordanians are demanding that the state and coalition take revenge with even more painful blows to destroy these criminals," he said, speaking to Reuters by telephone.

The prisoners were executed in Swaqa prison, a large facility 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of the capital, Amman, just before dawn, a security source who was familiar with the case said on Wednesday.

"They were both calm and showed no emotions and just prayed," the source added without elaborating.

Rishawi, in her mid-forties, was sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 suicide attack at a luxury hotel in Amman. She was meant to die in the attack — the worst in Jordan's history — but her suicide bomb belt did not go off.

Scores of Jordanians, infuriated by Kassasbeh's killing, gathered at midnight in a main square in Amman calling for revenge and her quick execution.

Holding placards showing images of the pilot, several youths chanted "Death, Death to Daesh," using a pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Jordan said on Tuesday the pilot had been killed a month ago. The government had been picking up intelligence for weeks that the pilot was killed some time ago, a source close to the government said.

Disclosing that information appeared to be an attempt to counter domestic criticism that the government could have done more to strike a deal with ISIS to save him.

In Karak, Kassasbeh's hometown in southern Jordan, dozens of protesters had attacked a government building late on Tuesday, blaming the authorities for failing to do enough to save him.

Tribal elders calmed the crowd down.

Jordan to intensify anti-ISIS efforts

Mohammed al-Momani, a Jordanian government spokesman, said Jordan would intensify its efforts with the US-led international coalition fighting ISIS after the killing.

"We are talking about a collaborative effort between coalition members to intensify efforts to stop extremism and terrorism to undermine, degrade and eventually finish Daesh (ISIS)," Momani said.

King Abdullah headed a meeting with senior security officials on Wednesday, he added.

Jordan has mounted air raids in Syria as part of the US-led alliance and said on Tuesday that it would deliver a "strong, earth-shaking and decisive" response to the killing.

"All the State's military and security agencies are developing their options. Jordan's response will be heard by the world at large but this response on the security and military level will be announced at the appropriate time," Momani said.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, urged Jordan to work with it to fight ISIS and condemned what it described as the "heinous" killing of a Jordanian pilot by militants, Syria's state news agency SANA said on Wednesday.

The Syrian foreign ministry called on Jordan "to cooperate in the fight against terrorism represented by the organization Daesh and [al-Qaeda's Syria branch] al-Nusra Front ... and other terrorist organizations associated with them in Syria and the region."

Jordan is a major US-ally in the fight against ISIS and is home to hundreds of US military trainers bolstering defenses in the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

The United States has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against ISIS.

Described as the world's wealthiest "terror" group, ISIS no longer relies on wealthy donors from Gulf states and has become financially self-sustainable in both Iraq and Syria, earning $1 million a day from black market oil sales alone.

The returns of oil trade contribute to the expansion of recruitment of these extremist groups.

The US-led coalition of around 60 mainly Western and Arab states has been bombing Iraq and Syria since August and September respectively, but has so far failed to fully stop the advance of militants.

Critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, Jordan, and Turkey played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing, and politically empowering the armed opposition groups in Syria, and also allowing insurgents to freely infiltrate into the country.

Syrian newspapers on Wednesday said that ISIS' murder of a captured Jordanian pilot is the consequence of Amman's support for armed Syrian rebels, echoing longstanding claims by the Syrian government that Jordan is backing "terrorists" by supporting rebels. The Syrian regime refers to all armed opposition groups as "terrorists."

"The fire of the terrorist group burned the Jordanian after Amman facilitated... the entry of thousands of Salafis across its border so they could fight alongside armed groups against the Syrian Arab Army," the daily Al-Watan wrote, using a term for Islamic fundamentalists.

Jordan also hosted US troops during operations that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Rishawi came from Iraq's Anbar province bordering Jordan. Her tribal Iraqi relatives were close aides of the slain Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, from whose group ISIS emerged.

The steady expansion of terrorist groups in Iraq, especially in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, raises questions about the effectiveness of the US anti-terrorism campaign since 2001.

Anbar was the main battleground between US Marines and al-Qaeda during the "surge" campaign in 2006-2007.

The United States decided to invade Iraq in 2003 using the pretexts of “fighting terrorism” and the presence of “weapons of mass destruction.”

The war aimed to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq, but the terrorist group didn't exist in the country until after the invasion. The US invasion has served as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups, as figures show that terrorism rose precipitously in Iraq since 2003.

The war aimed to “free Iraqis” but instead killed at least half a million Iraqis and left the country in total turmoil.

On Tuesday, Jordanian state television broadcast archive footage of military maneuvers with patriotic music, with a picture of Kassasbeh in his army uniform in the corner of the screen.

King Abdullah cut short a visit to the United States to return home following word of Kassasbeh's death. In a televised statement, he said the pilot's killing was an act of "cowardly terror" by a deviant group that had no relation to Islam.

He urged Jordanians to unite and said the militants were "criminals" who had distorted the Muslim faith.

After adopting an open-border policy since the uprising turned into an armed conflict in Syria, Jordan is determined to keep the jihadists in the neighboring away from its border.

ISIS had demanded the release of Rishawi in exchange for the life of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. However, Goto was later beheaded by the group, with images of his death released in a video last Saturday.

Jordan had insisted that they would only release the woman as part of a deal to free the pilot.

Several politicians have called on the government to pull out of the coalition. The authorities said Kassasbeh's death would not weaken resolve to fight militant Islamist groups.

The Jordanian pilot is the first from the coalition known to have been captured and killed by ISIS.

Other reactions

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious center of learning, has called for the killing and crucifixion of militants from ISIS and expressed outrage over their murder of the Jordanian pilot.

In a statement, the Cairo-based authority's head, Ahmed al-Tayib expressed his "strong dismay at this cowardly act."

Tayib said this "requires the punishment mentioned in the Qur'an for these corrupt oppressors who fight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs."

Meanwhile, Iran described the killing as “inhumane and un-Islamic," extending condolences to the Jordanian government and nation as well as the family of the victim.

According to Press TV, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said that all countries "supporting and sponsoring terrorist groups" must be held accountable for the tragedy and other similar crimes.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri strongly condemned the killing and called on Arab and Western countries to adopt "new strategies" to deal with ISIS.

“This criminal act, which is worthy of the eras of ignorance and obscurantism, goes against all religious, ethical and human values,” Hariri said in a statement.

“Denunciation and condemnation are no longer enough to respond to the terrible terrorist crimes that continuously mark the actions of these terrorist extremist organizations,” he added.

Hariri called for “concerted efforts” at the various local, Arab and international levels.

He said new strategies and mechanisms were also needed to “put an end to these acts and eliminate all those who support them.”

“We stress, regarding this heinous crime, that we stand by Jordan, its King, government and people, and express our heartfelt sympathy to the family of the pilot in their grief, asking God almighty to have mercy on the martyr.”

From behind bars, prominent Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman extended his condolences to the Jordanian government and people.

Salman, head of al-Wefaq opposition movement, was arrested on December 28, a day after he, among other figures, led a peaceful rally near the capital Manama staged to protest against November's general elections, which the opposition boycotted, and call for the dismissal of both the parliament and the government.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)


We need to end capital punishment in the ME. Sajida had no control over the psychos that burnt Kassasbeh or beheaded the 2 Japanese men. I read she became a suicide bomber when members of her family were killed.

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