ISIS militants captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed in Syria while carrying out airstrikes Wednesday, making him the first foreign military member to fall into the extremists' hands since an international coalition launched its bombing campaign against the group months ago.
Images of the pilot being pulled out of a lake and hustled away by masked jihadis underscored the risks for the U.S. and its Arab and European allies in the air campaign.
The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presented a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives.
Plane not shot down
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the U.S. military insisted the plane was not shot down.
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"Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming," Central Command said in a statement.
U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing all coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, condemned the pilot's capture, saying in a statement: "We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery and will not tolerate ISIL's attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes."
A coalition official, who was not authorized to discuss the episode publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pilot was in an F-16 fighter and was able to eject.
Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani earlier told the AP that the plane was believed to have been shot down.
"It is our expectation that the plane went down because of fire from the ground, but it is difficult to confirm that, with the little information we have," he said.
ISIS is known to have Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles. The shoulder-fired weapon has long been in the Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals; it was used during the 1991 Gulf War by Iraqi forces to bring down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters.
Canadian jets fly Iraq missions
The United States and several Arab allies have been striking ISIS in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a "caliphate."
Canada has provided six CF-18s, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and a C-150 Polaris to the mission.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said earlier this month that Canadian planes would only participate in airstrikes on targets in Iraq and had no plans to fly missions into Syria.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria strikes, with Qatari logistical support.
ISIS has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons. In Iraq, it has shot down at least one Iraqi military helicopter, and the pilots died in the crash.
Moman, the information minister, vowed: "The war on terrorism will continue." He praised the pilot as an "example of heroism."
Apparently seeking to blunt criticism of the country's participation in the air campaign, Jordanian media published reports of al-Kaseasbeh's family expressing support for Jordan's King Abdullah.
Jordan's military said that the pilot was taken hostage by IS and that the group and those who support it will be held responsible for his safety.