KARAK, Jordan (Reuters) - The brutal killing of a Jordanian pilot by Islamic State militants has triggered a wave of nationalist fervor that may bolster King Abdullah’s case for a military campaign his country is waging against the group alongside the United States.
In the slain pilot’s home region of Karak, criticism voiced of the government’s failure to bring home airman Mouath al-Kasaesbeh has given way to demands for revenge and military retribution against Islamic State in Syria.
Unable to bury the slain pilot, who was shown burned to death in a cage and then crushed under rubble in a video released on Tuesday, his family received condolences at their home village of Ay near Karak, 100 km (60 miles) south of Amman.
Held in a traditional tent adorned with portrait photos of the newlywed 28-year-old Kasaesbeh, the gathering was an occasion for grief but also a show of support for King Abdullah who has faced public criticism over the hostage crisis.
Hundreds of Jordanians gathered from the early morning to pay their condolences. They included former royal court officials, ministers, and tribesmen who form an important pillar of Hashemite rule, supplying the army and security forces with dependable young recruits such as Kasaesbeh.
“Mouath has united all Jordanians,” said Salem Kreishan, 24, an army cadet. “This young hero died a man.”
“We must rally behind our security forces and army in this difficult moment,” said Yusef Damour, 34, a rescue worker.
Nearby, a group of young men in mourning were chanting “You are our martyr, you are the country”.
Kasaesbeh’s F-16 warplane crashed over northeastern Syria in December while he was flying a mission against Islamic State. Jordan is a staunch U.S. ally and part of the Washington-led coalition that is trying to destroy the group in Syria and Iraq, both of which border Jordan.
But its role in the war against Islamic State has so far enjoyed little support at home. Jordanians worried by instability at their borders have expressed fears that it might lead to Islamist attacks in their country.
The criticism has even extended to King Abdullah’s core tribal constituency, with members of Kasaesbeh’s tribe protesting against the government last week.
Critics have questioned whether the U.S.-led campaign is really their fight, unconvinced by King Abdullah’s argument that Islamic State is a threat to both Jordan and to Islam.
But Kasaesbeh’s brutal death, which prompted worldwide condemnation, may have settled that question for some.
“Mouath went to fight for tolerant Islam and went to the hyenas in their holes to destroy them. Anger will take its course and our revenge,” said Khaled al Karaki, a former royal court chief, speaking at the condolences tent.
“This is a battle that we cannot say now is not our war. We are now fighting our war and fighting the war of Islam together,” he said.
The government has battled perceptions it did too little to free the pilot. It disclosed on Tuesday that Kasaesbeh had been killed on Jan. 3 — just 10 days after he was shot down.
Anti-government protests erupted briefly on Tuesday night in Karak, but quickly subsided, as tribal elders helped to defuse the tension. Kasaesbeh’s father, wearing a traditional red and white headdress similar to the one worn by King Abdullah, demanded revenge and even tougher action against the group.
King Abdullah has vowed to wage “relentless” war against Islamic State, state TV reported on Wednesday. [ID:L6N0VE04V]
“I ask that the revenge be greater and that this criminal group be annihilated,” Safi al-Kasaesbeh said.
Editing by Tom Perry and Giles Elgood