Islamic State group militants on Wednesday captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed in Syria while conducting airstrikes, and a Jordanian official said it was believed to have been shot down by the extremists. If so, it would be the first downing of an aircraft from the international coalition waging an air campaign against the group.
The pilot’s capture underscored the risks for the United States and the multiple Arab and European countries whose warplanes are participating in bombing campaign aimed at pushing back the jihadis’ control across much of Syria and Iraq. It also posed Jordan with a nightmare scenario, though officials vowed the country would not back down in the fight against the group.
The Islamic State group is known to have stocks of 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 down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters.
Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani told The Associated Press 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.
Activists monitoring the conflict said Islamic State group fighters shot down the warplane near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital.
The Raqqa Media Center published a photograph said to be of the pilot ? in a white shirt, naked from the waist down and sopping wet ? being pulled by gunmen out of what appeared to be a lake. Another picture shows him surrounded by more than a dozen fighters, some of them masked. The center said IS fighters are scouring the area in case there is a second pilot.
The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State group 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.”
The pilot’s capture raises a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which has been sharply criticized by militant sympathizers for its participation. IS in the past has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured in operations around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons.
Moman, the informational minister, vowed that “the war on terrorism will continue,” saying, the fight with the extremists was “to defend the Islamic religion.”
Jordan’s military said in a statement that the aircraft crashed as the air force was carrying out a military mission against the Islamic State group Wednesday morning. “The pilot was taken hostage by the Daesh terrorist organization,” it added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
It said IS and “those who support it” will be responsible for the safety of the pilot. It did not give the cause of the crash or identify the type of aircraft.