AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Jordanian government spokesman says Jordan has executed two prisoners, including a would-be female suicide bomber from al-Qaida.
The executions at dawn Wednesday came just hours after Islamic State militants released a video that purportedly showed a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive in a cage.
Jordan vowed a swift and lethal response.
Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said that two prisoners, Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, were executed early Wednesday.
Al-Rishawi has been on death row for her role in a triple hotel bombing in the Jordanian capital Amman in 2005 that killed dozens.
EARLIER FROM CNN:
(CNN) — Pictures published on ISIS’s official al Furqan media site apparently show Jordanian military pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh being burned alive while confined in a cage.
al-Lassasbeh was killed January 3, Jordanian military spokesman Mamdouh Al Amri said on state-run television Thursday. The station asserted the same thing in a banner minutes earlier.
ISIS militants seized al-Kassasbeh after his jet crashed in Syria in December. The terror group said it captured him after he ejected from his crashing F-16 during U.S.-led coalition airstrikes near ISIS’s de facto capital, Raqqa.
In January, video messages apparently from ISIS said that al-Kassasbeh would be killed if Jordan didn’t release Sajida al-Rishawi, a female jihadist imprisoned in Jordan for her role in a 2005 suicide bombing.
The messages said it would release another ISIS hostage, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, if Jordan released al-Rishawi, but it said nothing about whether it would free al-Kassasbeh.
Jordan in turn demanded al-Kassasbeh be freed as part of the exchange. On Saturday, a video distributed appeared to show Goto’s beheaded body.
“Should, in fact, this video be authentic, it’s just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization,” said U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday.
“And it I think will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of our global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated,” Obama said, adding the video also would help show that ISIS’ ideology is “bankrupt.”
The U.S. National Security Council is aware of a video according to council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
“The intelligence community is working to confirm its authenticity. The United States strongly condemns ISIL’s actions and we call for the immediate release of all those held captive by ISIL,” she said Tuesday, referring to ISIS by an alternate acronym.
“We stand in solidarity with the government of Jordan and the Jordanian people.”
King Abdullah II of Jordan and the general commander of Jordan’s military will cut short their visit in Washington and return to Jordan, a banner on Jordanian state-run TV reads.
Who was al-Kassasbeh?
So who was al-Kassasbeh and how did he end up in ISIS’ hands?
Pictures of the Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot show a serious-looking, cleanshaven young man in military uniform.
According to the Jordan Times, an English-language newspaper published daily in the kingdom, the 27-year-old was a lieutenant.
One of eight children, he came from Karak Governorate in Jordan and graduated from King Hussein Air College, the newspaper says.
At the time of his capture, his father, Safi al-Kassasbeh, told the Jordan Times that his son was “a very modest and religious person,” who memorized the Quran and “was never harmful to anyone.”
The family’s desperation grew as time passed and as Moaz al-Kassasbeh’s fate was linked to that of Goto and the release of al-Rishawi.
Goto appeared to hold a picture of the pilot, now bearded, in a video message purported to be from ISIS that was released last month.
On the same day, Safi al-Kassasbeh joined hundreds of fellow Jordanians at a solidarity protest held in the capital, Amman, where he called on the Jordanian authorities to act to secure his son’s release.
“I firmly ask whomever has sent Moaz to fight outside the borders of Jordan, on a mission unrelated to us, to make strong efforts to bring back Moaz,” he said.
“Moaz’s blood is precious. It’s precious and it represents the blood of all Jordanians,” he said.
The plight of Moaz al-Kassasbeh surely resonated with Jordan’s King Abdullah, who has been a pillar of the international effort against ISIS and is himself a former helicopter pilot.
The young captive hailed from a high-ranking tribe considered especially loyal to the monarchy.
Abdullah’s wife, Queen Rania, posted an image to her 400,000 Instagram followers shortly after meeting with the pilot’s family.
“We are all Moaz,” it said in Arabic, beneath a picture representing a fighter jet in the colors of the Jordanian flag.
From the start, Jordan has played a pivotal part in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, but it was not a popular war within Jordan, which only added to the pressure on the authorities to secure al-Kassasbeh’s release.
‘They will kill me’
Late last month, ISIS published in its English-language online magazine Dabiq what it claimed was an “interview” with the pilot.
Al-Kassasbeh was shown wearing what appeared to be an orange jumpsuit.
Asked if he knew what ISIS would do with him, he replied: “Yes. They will kill me.”
Militants say they captured al-Kassasbeh after he ejected from his crashing F-16 on December 24, having taken part in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes near ISIS’ de-facto capital, Raqqa.
Images provided by the extremist organization’s media wing and circulated widely on social media showed bearded men with Kalashnikovs pulling the terrified airman out of a nearby river.
“We entered the region of Raqqa to sweep the area, then the striker jets entered to begin their attack,” al-Kassasbeh said, according to the online publication. “My plane was struck by a heat-seeking missile. I heard and felt its hit.”
The Jordanian government and U.S. Central Command said the aircraft had crashed and adamantly stated ISIS had not shot it down, as the group claims.
“I checked the system display and it indicated that the engine was damaged and burning,” the pilot was quoted as saying. “The plane began to deviate from its normal flight path, so I ejected. I landed in the Furat River by parachute and the seat caught on some ground, keeping me fixed, until I was captured by soldiers of the Islamic State.”
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz, Becky Anderson, Jomana Karadsheh and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.