At war with ISIS: Jordan’s response to the killing of their pilot

Following the brutal killing of Jordanian pilot al-Kasasbeh more people in the Kingdom oppose the militant group than ever. But a fear of a threat from within remains.

It didn’t feel like we were at war before. But things have changed here in Amman after the shocking video was released by Islamic state militants (ISIS) showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh, who was captured during a bombing raid in Syria, griping the bars of a cage as he was burned to death.

As my taxi driver drove me to work the morning after the news, he was listening to the radio about al-Kasasbeh. When we stopped at the traffic lights he held his head in his hands. Grief and despair filled his lined face.

On the following Friday I went with some friends to a market in downtown Amman. The call to prayer from all the mosques was echoing across the valley, but it seemed different this time. More like a cry of mourning. The prayer was followed by the sermons, resonating from the loud speakers of the mosques’ minarets. The Imams sounded more fervent than ever. I couldn’t understand the rapid Arabic but the air felt heavy with sorrow.

We’d heard that there was a march on at the central mosque in downtown so we decided to go and have a look. Hundreds of people were gathered, many wearing their red and white checkered keffiehs and holding posters of al-Kasasbeh. Shops lining the road also displayed his picture, and banners were strung up depicting nationalistic statements and pictures of the King alongside the Jordanian flag.

The crowd were standing on the road, listening to a man who stood on a platform shouting into a microphone. There were people there from all aspects of Jordanian society: young and old; rich and poor; Muslim and Christian.

While the dust has now settled since the march in downtown, people in Jordan are still angry, upset and shocked by what ISIS did to al-Kasasbeh. When asked about his death, most say that what ISIS did was not human.

While there have been many cases of violence committed by ISIS before this, the burning of Al-Kasasbeh really hit Jordanians hard and opened their eyes to the extent of the militant group’s brutality. Al-Kasasbeh was not only someone that Jordanians could relate to—a young man who looked like their brother, their son or their colleague at work—but he also belonged to a powerful tribe in the Kingdom.

Prior to his death there was talk of ISIS sympathisers in Jordan and reports that thousands of Jordanians had already joined their ranks in Syria and Iraq. But where there was ignorance or sympathy before, it has now been largely replaced by a widespread hostility for the group.

Despite this increase in opposition to ISIS it is likely that there are many people who are angry at the government for its involvement in the international coalition against the militant group. They say that this is not Jordan’s war. However, it is those that continue to silently support ISIS that are of greatest concern to the monarchy. How many there are is hard to say.

In the days after the march, the roar of fighter jets could heard as they flew low over Amman, returning from bombing ISIS targets across the border. Even though we’ve always been so close to the conflict — just a few hours drive away from where people are killing and dying — it all seemed so distant before.

The question on Jordanian minds now is whether ISIS is lying in wait, preparing to bring the battle to Amman. With it’s strong military and international allies, Jordan does not fear an external attack, but it does fear one from the invisible supporters within.

Photos from the march in downtown Amman on the 6th February 2015

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