Activists in the Syrian city of Raqqa reported on February 4 that the Islamic State (IS) group is using large screens to project a gruesome video that appears to show militants burning a captured Jordanian pilot alive.
The video of the apparent murder of pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh is being projected for the public to watch, according to the Raqqa-based activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
The 22 1/2-minute video was released on February 3 and has been widely shared on IS social-media accounts. While sites like YouTube quickly deleted the video, it remains available on other, less widely used video-sharing services.
The video opens with almost three minutes of news footage of Jordan's King Abdullah II (the IS group refer to him in the video as a "Taghut" -- a Muslim who worships something other than Allah) talking about his country's participation in the U.S.-led coalition against IS, before displaying the title "Healing The Believers' Chests."
It then shows news footage of Kasasbeh's capture by the IS group, and footage of Kasasbeh himself dressed in a bright orange robe and talking about the air operations against IS.
Through images used in the video, particularly of injured children juxtaposed with flames, IS attempts to make the claim that the U.S.-led air strikes have caused the death of innocent Syrian civilians, and to frame the actions of the U.S.-led coalition as a war on Muslims.
In a surreal series of images, Kasasbeh is shown clad in his orange robe and walking past a row of masked men.
The final few minutes of the video show Kasasbeh inside a small cage as one of the masked men sets fire to him.
The burning scene includes a "justification" for the murder in the form of a quotation from 13th-century Sunni Islamic scholar, ibn Taymiyya, who is known for having established a new basis for legitimizing jihad and has been frequently cited by extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, including for his fatwa that Muslims who did not practice the faith correctly could be killed.
The video ends with an announcement calling for more Jordanian pilots to be murdered.
"On this occasion, the Islamic State announces a reward of 100 gold dinars to whoever kills a crusader pilot. The diwan for state security has released a list containing the names of Jordanian pilots participating in the campaign, so good tidings to whoever supports his religion and achieves a kill that will liberate him from hellfire," the announcement reads.
Timing Of The Murder?
One major question about the apparent murder of Kasasbeh is when it took place. Although IS had demanded that the Jordanian government release an Iraqi death row prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for the Jordanian pilot, it is not clear if Kasasbeh was actually alive at the time the militants made their demand. Jordan had initially agreed to the swap but froze the deal after it said it received no proof that Kasasbeh was still alive.
On January 8, prior to the IS demand that Jordan swap Rishawi for Kasasbeh, Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, an activist with the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, tweeted that IS militants in Raqqa were celebrating the death by immolation of the pilot, while noting that the reports were not confirmed:
The fact that IS had time to put together a professionally edited, 15-minute video discussing the burning-to-death of Kasasbeh also suggests that the extremists possibly committed the murder before it demanded that Jordan swap the pilot for Rishawi.
Whenever the murder of Kasasbeh took place, it was almost certainly ordered directly by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to journalist and IS expert Hassan Hassan:
Jordanian King Abdullah II confirmed the death of the pilot in a speech broadcast on Jordanian TV on the evening of February 3. Abdullah said Jordanians should "stand united and show the real values of Jordanians in the face of these hardships."
A Jordanian government spokesman told the AFP news agency on February 4 that Jordan had executed Rishawi, the Iraqi prisoner that IS had demanded in exchange for the pilot, as well as Iraqi Al-Qaeda member Ziad al-Karboli, at 4 a.m. local time. The two prisoners were executed by hanging at the Swaqa prison south of Amman.
Jordan's Al-Ghad newspaper on February 4 quoted experts as saying that IS had "tarnished the image of Islam" and called on the Arab media to "confront this behavior" through "active and concrete practices contrary to [the IS group's] methods."
Al-Ghad's print version headlined with "We will take our revenge."
The U.S. Central Command issued a statement shortly after the video release on February 3 strongly condemning the "savage murder" of the pilot.
"This vicious act is yet another example of ISIL or 'Daesh's,' [alternative names for the IS group] brutality and warped ideology," the statement read.
In Egypt, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of the Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, expressed outrage over the Kasasbeh murder, saying that the militants had violated Islam's prohibition on the mutilation of bodies.
In a statement released late on February 3, Tayeb called for the "killing, crucifixion, and chopping of the limbs of Islamic State terrorists" on the grounds that they were fighting God and the Prophet Muhammad.
IS Supporters Shocked By The Murder
Reactions from those on jihadi forums who usually support IS were mixed, but it was notable that some Russian-speaking IS supporters expressed a degree of shock at the graphic burning to death of the pilot.
"What on earth is this? By Allah, I am for the Islamic State [group] but isn't it said that it's prohibited to burn a man? Really...," Abdulhalim as-Shishani, a Chechen based in Berlin who says he supports the IS group, commented on the Khilafa News pro-IS group on the VKontakte site, which had posted links to the video as well as still images showing Kasasbeh being burned alive.
Abdulhalim went on to say that he did "not agree" with the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot.
"It's banned to burn a person and even wild beasts and I never expected that from the Islamic State [group] even though I support the Islamic State [group] and I love our caliph [IS leader Baghdadi]," he wrote.
Another IS group supporter, named only as "Islam Islam," also questioned the killing of Kasasbeh. "Don't you think it was too harsh?" he asked.
Other pro-IS supporters justified the burning alive of Kasasbeh by referring to the video's quote from ibn Taymiyyah.
"There's a basis [for the killing] from ibn Taymiyyah. Is that not enough?" asked one pro-IS VK user, Rasul Sakhabov, who claims to be from Daghestan.
Similar justifications have been used by IS before to justify its savage behavior, according to journalist Hassan Hassan, who noted in a tweet on February 4 that "there are fatwas online that justify the burning of murtadeen [apostates] alive."
However, such justifications appeared not to be sufficient for some pro-jihadi social media users. One pro-jihadi on Facebook, who goes by the name Ramadan Taleb, commented that some people tried to find "loopholes in Sharia" not just for burning "but for even more heinous killings."
'Tactics Will Backfire'
Some experts have said that this latest gruesome killing will lead to a backlash against IS from the international community.
Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, said that the latest IS video would backfire and lead to an "outcry internationally."
What effect will the barbaric murder of Kasasbeh have on those who support the IS group (and who may seek to join its ranks in Syria and Iraq)?
The questioning by pro-IS supporters of the IS group's decision to burn to death a Jordanian man suggests that the horrific tactic is a step too far even for ardent followers of the group, who have not balked in the past when IS released videos of beheadings and other killings.
The shocked reactions of IS supporters -- at least those from the North Caucasus and other Russian-speaking areas -- to the murder also come amid a growing tide of condemnation of IS militants from other Russian-speaking militant groups in Syria and the North Caucasus.
It remains to be seen whether the burning-to-death of Kasasbeh will lead IS supporters to distance themselves from the IS group. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the barbaric murder is leading many pro-jihadi supporters to openly question whether the IS group's tactics are legitimate.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk