UPDATE 'We Are All Muslims': Father Of Jordanian Pilot Captured By Islamic States Begs For His Safe Return
The Islamic State group claims it has shot down a coalition warplane conducting airstrikes on the jihadists in Syria and has taken the pilot captive.
If true, it will be the first warplane shot down by IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL, since the US-led coalition began its airstrikes against the group in Syria three months ago. But it is not clear whether the plane may have suffered a technical fault, rather than having been shot down.
According to photos posted on social media, and information from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the plane and its Jordanian pilot appear to have been brought down near Raqqa, the Syrian city which is acting as the main headquarters of the group.
Pictures of the purportedly captured pilot being paraded by the fighters, with his name and nationality written in the captions. Dressed in a white shirt, a bearded fighter grips him around the neck and drags him along. Another photograph published by the group showed the man — naked from the waist down and soaking wet — being captured by three gunmen as he was taken out of what appeared to be a lake.
"We have confirmed reports that IS members took a (non-Syrian) Arab pilot prisoner after shooting his plane down with an anti-aircraft missile near Raqqa city," SOHR said. The pilot is believed to have beeb flying an F-16 bomber, from what can be ascertained from pictures posted by IS members.
Another group, the Raqqa Media Centre (RMC), which covers areas under IS control in that district of Syria, said the warplane crashed near the village of Hamra Ghannam - adding that IS militants were searching the area in case there is another pilot.
RMC later posted a photograph of the Jordanian military identity card of the pilot identifying him as Mu'ath Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh who was born on May 29, 1988.
His Facebook page says he is a pilot with Jordanian Royal Air Force, and that he has recently got married. It includes pictures of him posing with warplanes.
In Jordan, the pilot's cousin Marwan al-Kaseasbeh confirmed by telephone with The Associated Press that the photos are of his cousin. He added that the Jordanian government has so far not contacted the pilot's family.
Jordan is one of five Arab nations taking part in US-led coalition airstrikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq, in the regions controlled by the militant group. The other countries involved are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain, who have carried out hundreds of airstrikes against IS positions in Syria since September 23.
"During a mission Wednesday morning conducted by several Royal Jordanian Air Force planes against hideouts of the IS terrorist organisation in the Raqqa region, one of the planes went down and the pilot was taken hostage," a military source was quoted by the BBC as saying. "Jordan holds the group and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life."
Several IS supporters on Twitter have called on the group not to execute the pilot but to exchange him for several high-profile IS prisoners.
In Washington, a Pentagon official said they are aware of the claims being made over social media that a pilot has been shot down, but they could not confirm the report at this time.
Weapons expert Eliot Higgins, who runs the investigative site Bellingcat, said IS has the capacity to bring down a plane, though it does not mean that is what has occurred. The plane may have been downed by an engineering fault or pilot error.
ISIS has used FN-6 MANPADS in Iraq in recent months to down a helicopter pic.twitter.com/yPpwZbsxLP— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) December 24, 2014
It's likely the FN-6 MANPADS ISIS are using were provided by a foreign power to Syrian opposition groups— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) December 24, 2014