AMMAN (AFP) – Jordan vowed Thursday to make every effort to save a pilot captured by the Islamic State group in Syria as Washington denied claims the militants shot his warplane out of the sky.
Maaz al-Kassasbeh, a 26-year-old first lieutenant in the Jordanian air force, was captured by IS on Wednesday after his F-16 jet crashed while on a mission against the militants over northern Syria.
It was the first warplane lost and the first capture of a serviceman since the coalition launched strikes against IS in Syria in September.
It was also a major propaganda victory for the extremist group, which released several photographs parading the captured pilot.
“The Jordanian government… is making all efforts with several crisis cells to free (the pilot),” government daily Al-Rai said in an editorial Thursday. “We are confident that our brave one will be released… He has not been forgotten,” it said.
Jordan, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has joined the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against IS after it seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Kassasbeh’s plane went down near the Syrian city of Raqaa, which IS has used as its de facto capital and where coalition warplanes have carried out regular strikes.
The militants and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the plane was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile, raising concerns for other coalition planes flying in the area.
But the US military dismissed the claim, saying “evidence clearly suggests that ISIL did not down the aircraft”, using another name for IS.
“We strongly condemn the actions of ISIL, which has taken captive the downed pilot,” US Central Command chief General Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
“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.”