In a new show of brutality for a group already known for displays of violence, the Islamic State released a video on Tuesday purporting to show the execution of a captive Jordanian pilot by burning him alive.
The lengthy footage shows clips of Jordan’s involvement in the United States-led airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. At the end, the pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, stands inside of a cage and is set on fire by an unidentified militant who uses a torch to ignite flammable liquid that has drenched the pilot’s clothing.
The Islamic State’s previous video executions of Western hostages were all beheadings. The latest video, which was sent to reporters on Tuesday morning by members of the Islamic State and later reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors jihadist activity on the Internet, was the group’s first known execution by fire.
“They have raised the bar in terms of brutality,” said David L. Phillips, a former senior adviser to the State Department on peace-building efforts in Iraq, who is now a director at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.
Jordan’s military on Tuesday vowed to avenge the pilot’s murder, and King Abdullah II of Jordan broke off a trip to Washington to rush home. “The blood of our hero martyr Moaz al-Kasasbeh will not go for nothing,” said Mandouh Ameri, a spokesman for the Jordanian military. “And the revenge will be equal to what happened to Jordan.” The spokesman did not specify what was meant by that threat.
There was no indication in the video of when it was made. Jordanian officials claimed Tuesday that the pilot had been executed on Jan. 3, but the date was not independently confirmed and the Jordanian government did not offer an explanation for why officials believed the execution had happened then.
American intelligence officials were working to confirm the authenticity of the video, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said in a statement.
At a White House news conference, President Obama said he was aware of the footage. “It’s just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization,” he said. “And I think it will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of the global coalition to make sure that they are degraded and ultimately defeated.”
The 26-year-old pilot was captured by Islamic State militants on Dec. 24 after his F-16 fighter jet went down over northern Syria. His captivity has transfixed his home country, where he comes from a prominent tribe.
Jordanian officials had attempted to negotiate with the Islamic State, which demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman incarcerated in Jordan for her role in a 2005 bombing attack in the country’s capital. The militants said they would kill Lieutenant Kasasbeh if Jordan failed to comply, then set a deadline of Jan. 28.
Even though Jordan said it would release Ms. Rishawi in return for the pilot — an enormous concession to the group — the talks broke down because the Islamic State appeared willing only to release a Japanese hostage in exchange, and not the pilot.
After the deadline passed, the group released a video that appeared to show the Japanese hostage being beheaded.
The depiction of the pilot’s execution appeared to have been carefully produced. It shows him walking on a dirt path in an orange jumpsuit, the same uniform worn by Western hostages in other execution videos released by the Islamic State, meant to evoke the garb worn by prisoners at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The pilot’s movements and expressions appear forced, as if he had been made to walk the sequence several times.
In the final minutes of the video, he is shown inside a black-barred cage, his jumpsuit soaked in what appears to be gasoline. A hooded Islamic State fighter theatrically lights a torch. The pilot is engulfed in flames. He is shown collapsing to his knees, then falls backward.
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