According to CNN, the recent execution of Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh being burned alive was different than the previously publicized executions of journalists and tourists: the victim was a Muslim.
Al-Kasasbeh was from a prominent Sunni tribal family in Jordan, and his killing has sparked outrage.
Support in Jordan for King Abdullah’s involvement in the anti-ISIS coalitions is now stronger than before, according to CNN. There has also been outrage across the Sunni Arab world, with the head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious center of learning, reportedly calling for ISIS fighters to be crucified.
The video of the execution was a calculated move by ISIS to weaken the resolve of Jordan and other Sunni Arab powers that have joined the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group.
However, early signs indicate the video, which may have been shot up to a month ago, has had the opposite result, creating a significant backlash from Sunnis in the region.
Spreading propaganda terror has worked before for ISIS, allowing it to punch above its weight.
Prior to launching an assault on Mosul in June, the group released a series of videos showing the militants brutalizing and killing Iraqi soldiers they had captured. It put the scare in the Iraqi army. When ISIS fighters attacked Mosul, Iraqi soldiers turned and fled despite greatly outnumbering the attackers.
The release of the video to coincide with Jordanian King Abdullah II’s visit to the United States may have been deliberate — the optics of the Jordanian King in Washington served ISIS’ narrative of the kingdom being a puppet for the “Crusaders.”
While the video has rallied ISIS’ most hard-line supporters and will likely help persuade some foreign fighters to join it, it is also likely to shrink its potential pool of recruits.
The reality is that burning to death a fellow Muslim is at odds with mainstream Islamic teaching and even some ISIS sympathizers may have second thoughts. It’s a point underscored in November when Sulaimaan Samuel, a mentor in a UK Home Office scheme to prevent radicalization, said ISIS’ beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning was putting off young British Muslims from joining the group.
In the long run, ISIS’ brutality is not a winning strategy, as al Qaeda has recognized. Exactly a year before the release of the video of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive, al Qaeda’s general command cut ties to ISIS for its excess brutality and killing of Muslims.
In the coming weeks, Jordan is likely to step up its air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But its greatest contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition will likely be its significant intelligence gathering capabilities in those two countries, which we can expect to be expanded. Jordan intelligence played a key role in gathering intelligence that led to the U.S. airstrike that killed Jordanian ISIS founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in June 2006.
Of course, such expanded action carries the risk that ISIS will retaliate with attacks in Jordan. The executions of Sajida al-Rishawi, an ISIS female icon who was part of a team that killed almost 60 in hotels in Amman in 2005, and Ziad Karbouli, an al-Zarqawi aide captured in 2006, has deeply angered the group.
Jordan already has a significant home-grown radicalization problem — as many as 2,000 Jordanians are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight, many with ISIS. Meanwhile, several Jordanian fighters appeared in an ISIS video released last year calling for King Abdullah to be slaughtered.
Also, last summer there were significant pro-ISIS demonstrations in Zarqa (Al Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi’s birthplace) and Ma’an by extremists excited by ISIS’ declaration of an Islamic caliphate.
Altogether, there are an estimated 9,000 pro-jihadi extremists in Jordan, according to The Associated Press, and analysts fear that number is growing due to high unemployment and other socioeconomic problems that are creating a fertile atmosphere for recruitment. Another worry is the presence of extremists among the 620,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan.
All that said, the picture in Jordan is not all bad — its overwhelmingly Sunni population at least has meant there is relatively little sectarian tension. And the brutal burning to death of one of their own has also mobilized Jordan’s conservative tribes against ISIS.