As Jets Roar Overhead, Jordan Remembers Its Fallen Pilot

February 4, 2015

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh’s village curves around mountainous slopes not far from the ancient city of Karak, where the walls of a sprawling castle were once washed in blood as the Crusdaers lost out to those of the mighty Muslim warrior Saladin in the 12th century.

Today, the village’s narrow streets were clogged with civilian and military vehicles bringing mourners to pay respect to the memory of the 28-year-old Kaseasbeh, whose fiery death his village and country are still coming to terms with.

Four of Kasasbeh’s fellow air force pilots made a pass over the village, before dividing into two pairs that wheeled and came again, this time much lower:

Kaseasbeh’s father, Safi, emerges from the funeral hall and worked through a sea of well-wishers to dispel any concerns that the family, from a prominent Jordanian tribe, will be attacking the government for its decision to join the coalition fighting the self-declared Islamic State, known here by its arabic acronym DAESH.

“A couple days ago I prepared this place to celebrate my son’s return, only to learn of his murder by Daesh,” the father said.

But he also said that Wednesday’s executions of two Iraqis, convicted of terrorism in Jordan, was not sufficient revenge. He says the goal for everyone – Arabs, Muslims, and the outside world – must be to destroy Daesh before it ruins the name of Islam around the world.

The comments mark a shift from the days before the gruesome video of Kaseasbeh’s death, when the family had joined many in southern Jordan in questioning their country’s role in the coalition against the Islamic State.

None of those questions came up Wednesday, nor did criticism of the air force for failing to rescue Kaseasbeh when his plane crashed in December in territory controlled by the Islamic State.

As mourning prayers for Kaseasbeh begin, his older brother Jawdad remembered him as a “lovely” man, a quiet village boy who surprised people by rising to become an air force pilot.

Now, says Jawdad, his horrific killing leaves no doubt about the “ugly and disgusting people” they’re dealing with, people he says must be stopped.

“Now Daesh’s war is my war. And it is war for all Muslims, and for all countries,” he says.

Whether war against daesh really becomes jordan’s war remains an open question.

Sympathy for the extremists is relatively high in this part of the country and questions are growing about whether Jordan had reason to believe that the young pilot was dead weeks before the talk of a possible prisoner swap became public.

in any case, all of Jordan now knows the stakes are high. A cousin of the dead pilot, Ala’a Kaseasbeh, doesn’t quite succeed in keeping the emotion from his voice as he addresses the neighboring states and the young people watching the horror unfold.

“My message to Turkey is: guard your country dearly, because Daesh is very close” he said. “And I call on all young people to be very careful when you decide about joining an Islamic fighting group. These groups only want money, and they feed off the lives of others.”

But on this day at least, Jordan’s King Abdullah is enjoying a rare blossoming of public support – one brought on by a breathtaking display of cruelty to a quiet young man from a village in the mountains east of Karak.

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