SHAFAQNA – Fighters from Islamic State (Isis) claim to have shot down a US-led coalition warplane in northern Syria and taken the Jordanian pilot captive. The Jordanian army confirmed that one of its planes had crashed and the pilot had been captured, and said: “Jordan holds the group and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life”.
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, near the city of Raqqa, a major stronghold for Isis fighters. This is the first US-led coalition aircraft to be lost on Isis territory since airstrikes began in September.
Images distributed by Isis supporters appear to show the remains of an F-16 fighter jet. Experts said the missile used may have been taken from Syrian rebels or among weapons captured from Syrian and Iraqi troops.
The pro-Isis Raqqa Media Centre has posted pictures on Facebook they claim are of the pilot surrounded by the group’s fighters. They also showed a military card identifying him as 26-year-old First Lieutenant Maaz al-Kasasbeh. The man appeared able to stand but was bleeding from the mouth. He was wearing only a T-shirt. It was not possible to verify the images.
Lt Kasasbeh’s father, Youssef al-Kasasbeh, was quoted by the Jordanian news website Saraya as saying the family had been informed by the air force of his capture. He said he had been told that the military was “working to save his life” and that Jordan’s ruler, King Abdullah II, was following events.
“My other son met with the commander of the Jordanian air force who confirmed to him that my son Maaz was captured by IS,” he said, calling for the jihadists to show “mercy and free my son”.
The US-led coalition and the Syrian government regularly strike Isis targets in Raqqa province, which borders Turkey and is almost entirely under the control of jihadists. The air forces of Jordan, the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain have been involved in the airstrikes.
US officials said they were aware of the claims being made over social media that a pilot had been shot down, but they could not confirm the report at this time.