AMMAN: Thousands marched in Jordan’s capital Friday demanding retribution for the burning alive of a fighter pilot by the Islamic State group, as Amman intensified its fight against the jihadists.
Jordan said dozens of its jet fighters struck IS on Thursday, and had widened their campaign from Syria to include targets in neighbouring Iraq.
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told CNN the operation was “the beginning of our retaliation over this horrific and brutal murder of our brave young pilot.”
Earlier this week, IS released a video of the gruesome killing of airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh, whose death has sparked grief and deep anger in Jordan.
In Amman crowds of people waved Jordanian flags and pictures of Kassasbeh.
“We are all Maaz… We are all Jordan,” they chanted, some holding placards aloft that read: “Yes to punishment. Yes to the eradication of terrorism.”
Holding a portrait of the pilot with the words “Maaz the martyr of righteousness”, Jordan’s Queen Rania joined the marchers after weekly prayers at the Al-Husseini mosque.
Demonstrator Yussef al-Soud told AFP: “We are here to express our anger. We are all soldiers… ready to avenge the pilot.”
The queen, who did not address the rally, had called in November for redoubled efforts in the anti-IS offensive, which she said was a “fight for the Middle East and Islam”.
Judeh declined to reveal Jordan’s military plans but said it would hit the militants with all its might.
“We’re going to go after them and we will eradicate them… We are at the forefront. This is our fight,” he told CNN.
Jordan has conducted regular air raids against IS across the border in Syria as part of a US-led campaign against the Sunni extremist group.
Asked by Fox News in a separate interview if Jordan was now also targeting IS in Iraq, he replied: “That’s right.Today, more Syria than Iraq. It is an ongoing effort.”
He added: “They are in Iraq and they are in Syria and therefore you have to target them wherever they are.”
American F-16 and F-22 jets provided security to the Jordanian fighter planes, with additional support from refuelling tankers and surveillance aircraft, US officials said.
On Thursday, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania visited Kassasbeh’s family, which has urged the government to “destroy” the jihadists, to pay their condolences.
Safi al-Kassasbeh branded IS “infidels and terrorists who know no humanity or human rights”, and said the “international community must destroy” the group.
On Wednesday, in response to the killing, Jordan executed two Iraqi convicts — female would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi and Al-Qaeda operative Ziad al-Karboli.
IS had offered to spare Kassasbeh’s life and free Japanese journalist Kenji Goto — who was later beheaded — in exchange for Rishawi.
Jordanian television suggested Kassasbeh was killed on January 3, before IS offered to spare him and free Goto in return for Rishawi’s release.
Following the airman’s capture, another member of the US-led coalition, the United Arab Emirates, withdrew from air strike missions over fears for the safety of its pilots, a US official said.
The UAE government daily Al-Ittihad said Friday that Abu Dhabi was concerned over the coalition’s failure to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq, which are helping government forces and other militia to battle IS in the western Anbar province.
“Neither air strikes nor a media war are sufficient to defeat” IS, the paper said.
On Thursday, the US military said it was deploying search and rescue planes to northern Iraq in a move designed to shorten the response time needed to reach pilots who end up in IS-held territory.
Last year, IS seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq and declared a “caliphate” in areas under its control, imposing its brutal interpretation of Islam and committing widespread atrocities.
The European Union Friday pledged one billion euros ($1.14 billion) in funding for the crises in Syria and Iraq and the fight against IS.
Jihadists have flocked to Syria since anti-government protests broke out in 2011 and escalated into a multi-sided civil war in which more than 200,000 people have died.
At least 82 people, including 18 children, have been killed by regime bombardment on a rebel-held area near Damascus since Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
That followed rebel rocket fire on Damascus that killed 10 people, including one child.