Rukmini Callimachi and Rick Gladstone / The New York Times & Keely Lockhart/ Radio Hala & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Greg Botelho and Jomana Karadsheh / CNN – 2015-02-07 01:03:14
Kayla Jean Mueller
American Aid Worker in Syria, from Prescott, Arizona
Islamic State Claims American
Hostage Killed by Jordanian Retaliation Bombings
Rukmini Callimachi and Rick Gladstone / The New York Times
(February 6, 2015) — . . . . A senior US military official with knowledge of the targets attacked by the Jordanians said the targets in and around Raqqa that were struck were carefully vetted and scrutinized, as with previous strikes, and there were no indications in advance that any hostages were located at the facilities.
“The same high standards we apply to all targets in the vetting stage were applied to these,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. “If there’s any inkling a person like that was there, we don’t go there.”
The official cautioned that without proof of the American hostage’s death, the statement by the Islamic State could be a ploy to cause the Jordanians and the rest of the US-led coalition to refrain from any heavier airstrikes.
The official said though the Jordanian fighter jets took the lead in the strike in and around Raqqa, they were accompanied by US aircraft, as is standard on bombing runs over territory held by the Islamic State in Syria.
Jordan Releases Retaliatory Video for IS Hostage Murder
Keely Lockhart/ Radio Hala
(February 6, 2015) — Dozens of Jordanian fighter jets bombed Islamic State group targets on Thursday, including training centres and weapons storage sites, the military said, pledging to keep up the attacks until the militants are defeated. Jordan has said it would respond harshly to the killing of a captive Jordanian fighter pilot by the militants.
State TV showed footage of Thursday’s strikes, including one which set off a large ball of fire after impact. The military said all targets were destroyed. To coincide with the strikes, Jordan released a slickly produced video showing the fighter jets preparing for strikes.
In the video, air force personnel are seen writing on missiles. In one clip, and officer is shown to write: “Will show them hell, from the Jordanian air force.”
“From a brave Jordanian woman to you Baghdadi,” reads another. A pilot is also shown holding up a sign from his cockpit which reads: “And do not think that God is unaware of what the evildoers are doing.”
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said: “We are upping the ante. We’re going after them wherever they are, with everything that we have. But it’s not the beginning, and it’s certainly not the end.”
US Hypes Jordanian Warplanes Bombing ISIS
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 5, 2015) — Every day, the US-led anti-ISIS alliance launched dozens of bombings against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, destroying buildings they figure are being used as “training centers” or bases for the militants.
It usually goes by without much notice, but Jordanian officials are particularly making note of the attacks today, insisting theyâ€™re going to “eliminate” ISIS outright as part of their revenge for the recent video showing the execution of one of their pilots.
Yet once again, the question of what theyâ€™re actually hitting is mostly unanswered, and seems to be the same tactic of hitting any big looking building in ISIS territory on the assumption it must be assumption.
The alliance has notoriously bad intelligence on the inner workings of ISIS, particularly on the Syrian side, with a lot of their policy making based on suppositions. The appearance of bombings doing anything worthwhile is probably fine for Jordan at this point, however, since the attacks are primarily a show for their promised “revenge” against the militants.
The show of militarism in Jordan went so far as to include officials releasing images of Jordanâ€™s King Abdullah II in combat gear, leading to reports that heâ€™s going to personally fly bombing runs. Those claims were quickly denied by officials, meaning the picture was just cosplay for PR purposes.
Jordan Challenges ISIS Claim of
US Hostage Death in Airstrike
Greg Botelho and Jomana Karadsheh / CNN
AMMAN, Jordan ((February 6, 2015) — Was an American hostage held in Syria killed by a Jordanian airstrike? That’s what ISIS said in an online posting Friday, claiming that she died in the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa.
The posting included a picture of a collapsed building and a claim that the woman — identified Friday by her family as Kayla Mueller — was being held there. But it did not show a body or provide any proof of death.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said his country is looking into the claim. But, he said, “we are highly skeptical” because of ISIS’s proven lack of credibility, and he questioned whether they could identify Jordanian warplanes so high in the sky or would hold a hostage in a “weapon warehouse.”
Later, he told CNN that ISIS uses “these events to manipulate facts and to manipulate public opinion.”
“What we know about this terrorist organization is that they are liars when it comes to these things,” al-Momani told “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
Interior Minister Hussein Majali also knocked down the report, calling it another “PR stunt” by ISIS. “They tried to cause problems internally in Jordan and haven’t succeeded,” Majali said. “They are now trying to drive a wedge between the coalition with this latest low PR stunt.”
ISIS has held a number of hostages from the United States, Britain and Japan. As of now, at least two Westerners are thought to be in its custody: British journalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in a number of ISIS-produced videos, and the American woman, who is a 26-year-old aid worker. CNN has not previously named Mueller because of a request from the family.
Asked about ISIS’s claim of the woman’s death in Raqqa, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that she could not “confirm those reports in any way. Obviously (we are) deeply concerned . . . ,” she added. “We have not, at this point, seen anything that corroborates (ISIS’s) claims.”
The Prescott, Arizona, native was taken captive in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital, her family said.
Before that, Mueller graduated from Northern Arizona University and spent years traversing the world — including India, Israel and her native Arizona, where she worked in an HIV/AIDS clinic and volunteered at a women’s shelter. Her going to Syria in late 2012 with the Danish Refugee Council and Support to Life humanitarian agency aligned with that same mission to help others.
What drove her? According to her family, Mueller would say, “I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.”
According to a source close to the family, ISIS had set a deadline of August 13, 2014, for a 5 million Euro ransom to be paid or the group would kill her.
Experts: Claim is dubious, but possible
When it comes to ISIS, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Most of its hostages have been executed by the terror group, which then touted the grisly deaths online.
That was the case with Jordanian pilot Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, who was captured by the Islamist extremist group after his F-16 fighter jet crashed while on an anti-ISIS mission near Raqqa. Video emerged Tuesday of ISIS burning him alive while he was locked in a cage.
After the video came out, Jordanian officials said they have reason to believe al-Kasasbeh was actually killed in early January. That suggested that during the month between, while signaling its openness to a prisoner exchange with Jordan, ISIS had known all along that the pilot was dead.
CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank is among those very dubious that ISIS is telling the truth this time around, including its claim that the US hostage was alone in the building and that no militants died in the strike. “It seems very, very convenient for propaganda purposes, from the ISIS point of view,” Cruickshank said.
CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes also cast doubt. The buildings in the photo are damaged but there is no smoke. If the pictures were taken just after an airstrike, there would be smoke from smoldering debris, he said.
Retired US Army Lt. Col. James Reese, a CNN global affairs analyst, says it’s plausible a hostage may have been inadvertently killed in Syria. “We all know that (the US-led military coalition’s) intelligence â€¦ in Syria is not as good as we have in Iraq now,” Reese said. “So it is plausible (Mueller was killed), and it could be unfortunate. But sometimes … that happens in these wars.”
Though there is no evidence Mueller was killed, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies are working on a theory that she may have died weeks or months ago, sources said. Intelligence and law enforcement sources said the theory comes from prior intelligence on her captivity and ISIS’ past behavior with hostages.
The claim of the Jordanian airstrike killing her likely is a convenient way for ISIS to explain why it killed a woman, which could be problematic for its message, the sources said.
Jordanian airstrikes follow pilot’s death
This all comes in the wake of al-Kasasbeh’s horrific killing, which spurred outrage in Jordan and beyond. His father, Safi al-Kasasbeh, afterward called on Jordan and its allies to “annihilate” ISIS. Government officials appear, at least in their rhetoric, determined to do just that.
“(Jordan will extract) revenge that equals the tragedy that has befallen the Jordanians,” government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said.
On Thursday — a day after executing two jihadists in retaliation — the Middle Eastern nation launched its first strikes since the news emerged about al-Kasasbeh.
The late pilot’s father said that King Abdullah II told him 30 Jordanian warplanes participated in Thursday’s action, which were focused in and around Raqqa.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many jets took part in Friday’s airstrikes, or what they managed to achieve. The anti-ISIS activist group, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” reported warplanes in that Syrian city as well as loud explosions, releasing a photo of dark smoke rising above. At the very least, the latest strikes prove that Jordan’s mission, dubbed “Moath the Martyr,” is not a one-day affair.
Jordanian minister: ‘This is definitely our war’
Until now, ISIS hasn’t shown any inclination to back down. Just the opposite, in fact: The terror group has been relentless and brutal in its quest to establish a vast caliphate under its strict, twisted version of Sharia law.
The organization’s savagery seemingly knows no bounds, not only in its use of captives’ killings as grisly propaganda tools but in its campaign of mass killings, rapes, kidnappings and other atrocities while taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Just this week, a UN report claimed ISIS has stepped up its use of children in its bloody campaign, even putting price tags on some and selling them as slaves.
Al-Kasasbeh’s killing was an attempt by ISIS “to instill terror and fear in the hearts of its enemies,” making them less willing to provoke or put up a fight, says a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric who has been exiled from Syria.
“What’s happening is the opposite,” Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week. “The martyrdom of Moath has united Muslims … against ISIS, leaving no slight room of doubt that these people do not represent Islam. They represent savagery, terrorism and extremism.”
That seems to be the sentiment in Jordan, at least, where citizens rallied again Friday in Amman to honor al-Kasasbeh and condemn his killers.
Thousands filled the King Hussein Mosque there, listening to a sermon decrying ISIS as antithetical to Islam and insisting that Muslims cannot stand idly by.
After prayers, crowds spilled out onto the streets to march calmly and defiantly toward Palm Square. Many held up banners and signs — including Queen Rania, with a poster that read, “Moath, the martyr of justice” — and chanted, “Long live the King.”
Jordan for months has been one of a handful of nations in the region taking part in the US-led coalition, a fight it continued with airstrikes Thursday and Friday at different sites around Iraq and Syria.
For all the efforts of the United States and its allies, Majali, the interior minister, told CNN that the fight is personal for his fellow Jordanians. And King Abdullah II has given “carte blanche … to the armed forces” to carry it out, Majali said.
“This is definitely not the US’s war. This is definitely our war,” said Majali. “… I don’t want to equate ourselves with this evil force (ISIS), but we will (take) revenge for our pilot.”
CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh reported from Jordan and Greg Botelho wrote this report from Atlanta. CNN’s Nic Robertson, Evan Perez, Jason Hanna, Ben Brumfield, Salma Abdelaziz, Ali Younes, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Barbara Starr, Jessica King and Samira Said contributed to this report.
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