Islamic State claims to down Jordanian plane, capture pilot – Los Angeles Times

Islamic State militants claimed Wednesday to have downed a U.S. coalition plane over a city the extremists control in northeastern Syria, capturing the Jordanian pilot.

“We have confirmed reports that [Islamic State] members took a (non-Syrian) Arab pilot prisoner after shooting his plane down with an anti-aircraft missile near Raqqah city,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network based in Britain.

Warplanes from the U.S. coalition which includes Jordan, have carried out regular airstrikes around Raqqah, headquarters for Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate.

Military officials in Jordan had no immediate comment.

“We have no information at this time and cannot confirm anything,” said a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Mohammad Obeidat.

But the Jordanian state news agency Petra released a statement confirming that the plane had been downed by members of Islamic State, which it referred to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

“While several airplanes of the Royal Jordanian Airforce were conducting a military operation on the lairs of the terrorist Daesh organization in the Syrian area of Raqqah on Wednesday morning, one of our planes crashed and its pilot was taken hostage by the terrorist Daesh organization,” the statement said.

The statement also noted that “Jordan holds the terrorist organization and those who support it responsible for the safety of the pilot and the preservation of his life.”

A spokesman for the U.S. airstrike campaign, Operation Inherent Resolve, said officials were investigating the situation Wednesday.

“We’ve seen the exact reports on Twitter and we’re working with our coalition partners to confirm those facts. As soon as we get verified information, we will issue a statement,” spokesman Gary Boucher said.

On Wednesday, the pro-Islamic State Aamaq News Agency reported that the pilot had been captured, and Islamic State militants in Raqqah posted photographs online purportedly showing fighters holding the man, who they claimed to have shot down with a heat-seeking missile.

In one photo, a man the militants say is the pilot — identified by name in the caption — is being escorted from a body of water by four men. He is without pants, and his face is bloody. Another photo shows the same man surrounded by about a dozen armed and uniformed men, with one in fatigues holding the captive by the neck.

An Islamic State leader also tweeted a picture of what the militants said was the pilot’s military photo identification card.

A Facebook page belonging to the man they named, 1st Lt. Yusef al-Kasaasbeh, 26, appeared to match the man in the photos. According to his page, he comes from a city south of Amman, attended King Hussein Air College, flies F-16s (he posted a photo of himself posing with a warplane) and was recently married.

The U.S. coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State since last fall, after the militants staged a summer offensive and seized control of large areas of Syria and Iraq. Also participating in the Syrian airstrikes are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In Iraq, the U.S. has been joined by Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.

Staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report from Baghdad. 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

3:57 a.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from the Jordanian state news agency Petra. 

This article was originally published at 3:19 a.m.

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