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Jordanian Pilot Held by the Islamic State after Plane Crash

The Jordanian military confirmed on December 24, 2014 that one of its warplanes had crashed in northern Syria and that the pilot had been captured by the Islamic State (IS) (formerly ISIS or ISIL)

The state news agency, Petra, quoted a source from the military’s general staff as saying: “During a mission conducted by several Jordanian Air Force planes against hideouts of the ISIS terrorist organization in the Raqa region, one of the planes went down and the pilot was taken hostage by ISIS. Jordan holds the group and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life”..[1]

The IS branch in Syria’s Raqa region published photographs on jihadist Web sites purporting to show its fighters holding the captured pilot, with a caption identifying himas Jordanian.
Several photographs were released showing the pilot, wearing only a white shirt, being carried from a body of water by four men, and on land surrounded by about a dozen armed men. Another photograph was released allegedly showing the pilot’s military identification card, which listed the name Maaz al-Kassasbeh, a May 29, 1988 birth date, and the rank of first lieutenant.[2]

In Jordan, the pilot’s cousin, Marwan al-Kaseasbeh, confirmed by telephone with the Associated Press that the photos are of his cousin. The pilot’s father, Youssef, was quoted by the Jordanian news Web site, Saraya, as saying that the family had been informed by the air force of his son’s capture, that the military promised it was “working to save his life” and that Jordan’s ruler, King Abdullah II, was following the events.[3]

The Jordanian military did not say why the plane went down, but both the jihadists and a monitoring aid group in Syria said that it had been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile. The United States dismissed claims by the IS that it shot down a Jordanian F-16 fighter flying with US-led coalition forces, which crashed in eastern Syria. “Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming,” said US Central Command, the body overseeing the coalition air war over Iraq and Syria. The statement did not provide a reason for the crash.[4]

The IS is known to have Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), and its militants have previously claimed to have Russian-made SA-16 and SA-18 missiles. Analysts have also reported that the IS has more advanced missiles, including the SA-24 and Chinese FN-6.[5]

Islamic militants and moderate Syrian rebels have previously managed to shoot down Iraqi and Syrian government aircraft—mostly helicopters—with either captured MANPADS or with the few supplied by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But the Obama administration has sought to prevent MANPADS from falling into the hands of even moderate Syrian rebels and has tried to limit their distribution as much as possible.[6]

Jordan has been threatened by IS advances in Syria and Iraq, and by the group’s latest incursion into the Lebanese border town of Arsal. Propaganda broadcast online by the Islamic State’s media wing suggested that Jordan and Saudi Arabia are the group’s next targets. The IS continues to threaten expansion into the kingdom — whether from across the Iraqi or Syrian borders or from within Jordan itself.[7]

Jordan and the Coalition against the Islamic State

Jordan is among a number of countries that have joined the US-led coalition in carrying out air strikes against the IS after the jihadists seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. Among the US allies attacking targets in Iraq are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. But only Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have joined the US in bombing runs against targets inside Syria.[8]

Coalition warplanes have carried out regular strikes around Raqa, which the IS has used as the headquarters for its self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
Coalition strikes have killed over 1,000 jihadists in Syria since they began on September 23, 2014.


This incident marks the first time that the coalition has lost an airplane in a combat mission against the IS and the Jordanian pilot is the first coalition soldier to be captured by the IS.

The Jordanian pilot’s capture raises a nightmare scenario for Jordan and its king.

King Abdullah has done his best to put his country in the vanguard of the fight against the Islamic State and has been sharply criticized by militant sympathizers at home and abroad for its participation in the coalition against the IS.

The roots of the Islamic State can be traced to Jordan. It was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who founded the Iraqi arm of Al-Qaeda that would eventually mutate into the Islamic State.[9] The IS has “ideological supporters” in Jordan and the movement is now close to the kingdom’s borders with Syria and Iraq.[10]

The Jordanian pilot comes from a well-known family in Kerak, in the southern part of Jordan. The family is putting considerable pressure on Jordanian authorities to resolve the problem.

“We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery, and will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes”,[11] said Central Command commander, General Lloyd Austin. The US and other members of the coalition will do all they can to help Jordan rescue the pilot but the probability of success in such a rescue mission is very low.

Some avenues of negotiation are being explored. Some local sheikhs have discussed the possibility that a woman, Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, imprisoned since 2005 for her role in the bombing of three Amman hotels that killed 60 people, might be traded for the pilot. The woman was working for the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, another Jordanian seen as the original godfather of the group that became the IS.[12]


[1] Jordan confirms pilot held by ISIS after plane crash, Al Arabia News, December 24, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] US says coalition jet not shot down by Islamic State, The Telegraph, December 24, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Did ISIS Shoot Down a Fighter Jet? The Daily Beast, December 24, 2014.

[6] Did ISIS Shoot Down a Fighter Jet? The Daily Beast, December 24, 2014.

[7] Michael Pizzi, “Middle East’s stable monarchy comes face to face with extremist threat”, Al Jazeera, July 10, 2014.

[8] Jordanian Pilot Downed and Captured by ISIS,, December 24, 2014.

[9] “Islamic State’s appeal presents Jordan with new test”, Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2014.

[10] Ariel Ben Solomon, “Britain, NATO ready to support Jordan against Islamic State”, Jerusalem Post, September 1, 2014.

[11] US says coalition jet not shot down by Islamic State, The Telegraph, December 24, 2014.

[12] Did ISIS Shoot Down a Fighter Jet? The Daily Beast, December 24, 2014.