AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Islamic State group militants captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed while conducting airstrikes over Syria, the Jordanian military said Wednesday. It was the first instance of a foreign soldier falling into the group’s hands since the U.S.-led coalition began its air campaign against the extremists.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. Activists monitoring the conflict said Islamic State group fighters shot down the warplane near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital.
The Raqqa Media Center published a photograph said to be of the pilot — in a white shirt, naked from the waist down and sopping wet — being pulled by gunmen out of what appeared to be a lake. Another picture shows him surrounded by more than a dozen fighters, some of them masked. The center said IS fighters are scouring the area in case there is a second pilot.
The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State group in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria strikes, with Qatari logistical support.
The pilot’s capture raises a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which has been sharply criticized by militant sympathizers for its participation. IS in the past has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured in operations around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons.
Jordan’s military said in a statement that as its air force was carrying out a military mission against the Islamic State group Wednesday morning, “one of our warplanes crashed,” it said. “The pilot was taken hostage by the Daesh terrorist organization,” it added, using the Arabic acronym for the isalmic State group.
It said IS and “those who support it” will be responsible for the safety of the pilot. It did not give the cause of the crash or identify the type of aircraft.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had confirmation from activists on the ground that the aircraft was shot down, either by a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile or by heavy machinegun fire.
The Raqqa Media Center, an agency of activists that operates openly in IS-ruled areas with permission of the group, said the plane was downed near the village of Hamra Ghannam outside Raqqa. It posted photos of militants posing with shards of wreckage. It also posted a phot of the pilot’s military identification card, identifying him as Mu’ath Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh.
In Jordan, the pilot’s cousin Marwan al-Kaseasbeh confirmed by telephone with The Associated Press that the photos are of his cousin.
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.
The official said any further questions about the alleged capture should be referred to the government of Jordan. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the reports by name.
Associated Press writer Will Lester contributed to this report from Washington.
Mroue reported from Beirut.