Jordan vows to 'eradicate' ISIS, says air strikes just the beginning, as thousands rally

A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the Islamic state in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Feb 5, 2015. Jordan said air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are only the start of its retaliation for
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the Islamic state in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Feb 5, 2015. Jordan said air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are only the start of its retaliation for the immolation of one of its pilots, vowing to eradicate the extremists. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

AMMAN (AFP) - Jordan said air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are only the start of its retaliation for the immolation of one of its pilots, vowing to "eradicate" the extremists as thousands rallied in Amman on Friday in solidarity with his grieving family.

The Jordanian military said “dozens of jet fighters” struck ISIS targets on Thursday, hitting militant training camps as well as weapons and ammunition depots.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told CNN the operation was “the beginning of our retaliation over this horrific and brutal murder of our brave young pilot.”

ISIS earlier this week released a highly choreographed video of the horrifying murder of pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, whose death has sparked grief and deep anger in Jordan.

Judeh declined to reveal Jordan’s military plans but said it would hit the militants with all its might. “We’re upping the ante. We’re going after them wherever they are, with everything that we have,” he said. “We’re going to go after them and we will eradicate them... We are at the forefront. This is our fight.”

American F-16 and F-22 jets provided security to the Jordanian fighter planes, with additional support from refuelling tankers and surveillance aircraft, US officials said.

Thousands marched in the capital on Friday in a show of solidarity for the murdered pilot. Protesters gathered after weekly prayers at the Al-Husseini mosque in central Amman, waving Jordanian flags and pictures of Kassasbeh.

“We are all Muath... We are all Jordan,” the crowd chanted. Placards were also held aloft that read: “Yes to punishment. Yes to the eradication of terrorism.”

WORLD 'MUST DESTROY' ISIS

On Thursday, King Abdullah II visited Kasaesbeh’s family, which has urged the government to “destroy” the extremists, to pay his condolences. Hundreds of people gathered as the king sat next to the 26-year-old first lieutenant’s father.

Safi al-Kasaesbeh branded ISIS “infidels and terrorists who know no humanity or human rights", and said the “international community must destroy” the group.

Abdullah had cut short a US visit and returned to Amman after the video of Kasaesbeh’s killing emerged.

On Wednesday, in response, Jordan executed two Iraqis on death row – female would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi and Al-Qaeda operative Ziad al-Karboli.  ISIS had offered to spare Kasaesbeh’s life and free Japanese journalist Kenji Goto – who was later beheaded – in exchange for Rishawi’s release.

Rishawi, 44, was sentenced to death for her role in triple hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 that killed 60 people. Jordanian television suggested Kasaesbeh was killed on January 3, before ISIS offered to spare him and free Goto in return for Rishawi’s release.

Following the airman’s capture, another member of the US-led coalition, the United Arab Emirates, withdrew from air strike missions over fears for the safety of its pilots, a US official said.

The UAE government daily Al-Ittihad said Friday that Abu Dhabi was concerned over the coalition’s failure to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq, which are helping government forces and other militia to battle ISIS in the western Anbar province.

“Neither air strikes nor a media war are sufficient to defeat” ISIS, the paper said.

On Thursday, the US military said it was deploying search and rescue planes to northern Iraq in a move designed to shorten the response time needed to reach pilots who end up in ISIS-held territory.

ISIS has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq and last year declared a “caliphate” in areas under its control, imposing its brutal interpretation of Islam and committing widespread atrocities. Extremists have flocked to Syria since anti-government protests broke out in 2011 and escalated into a multi-sided civil war in which more than 200,000 people have died.

At least 82 people, including 18 children, have been killed since Thursday by regime bombardment on a rebel-held area near Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.