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Jordanian pilot's "obscene" burning death by ISIS sparks outrage in Mideast

A man purported to be ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh speaks in this still image from an undated video filmed from an undisclosed location made available on social media on February 3, 2015.

REUTERS

CAIRO -- A video showing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants burning a captive Jordanian pilot to death brought an outpouring of grief and rage across the Middle East on Wednesday, its brutality horrifying a region long accustomed to violence.

Political and religious leaders offered angry denunciations and called for blood, while at least one wept on air while talking about the killing of 26-year-old Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 crashed in Syria in December during a U.S.-led coalition raid on the extremist group.

The head of Sunni Islam's most respected seat of learning, Egypt's Al-Azhar, said the militants deserve the Quranic punishment of death, crucifixion or the chopping off of their arms for being enemies of God and the Prophet Muhammad.

"Islam prohibits the taking of an innocent life," Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar's grand sheik, said in a statement, adding that by burning the pilot to death, the militants violated Islam's prohibition on the mutilation of bodies, even during wartime.

Capital punishment is used across much of the mostly Muslim Middle East for crimes like murder and drug smuggling. Death by hanging is the preferred method, but beheadings are routinely carried out in Saudi Arabia. In Iran and Pakistan, stoning to death as punishment for adultery exists in the penal code but is rarely used.

Burning to death as legal punishment, however, is unheard of in the contemporary Middle East, and a prominent Saudi cleric, Sheik Salman al-Oudah, wrote Wednesday that it is prohibited by Islam, citing what he said was a saying by the Prophet Muhammad that reserves for God alone the right to punish by fire in the after-life.

However, Hussein Bin Mahmoud, an ISIS-linked theologian, claimed on one of the group's social media forums that two of the Prophet Muhammad's revered successors ordered similar punishment for Arab renegades in the seventh century. Al-Azhar says the claim is unsubstantiated.

While acknowledging the prophet's saying that God alone punishes by fire, Bin Mahmoud cited a Quranic verse that requires Muslims to punish their enemies in kind. Since U.S.-led airstrikes "burn" Muslims, he argued, the IS group must burn those behind the raids.

Iyad Madani, the leader of the 57-nation, Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world's largest bloc of Muslim countries, condemned the killing.

It "utterly disregards the rights of prisoners Islam has decreed, as well as the human moral standards for war and treatment of prisoners," a statement from Madani said. It is sad to see "the depth of malaise" in parts of the Middle East, along with the "intellectual decay, the political fragmentation and the abuse of Islam, the great religion of mercy."

Condemnations quickly came from Gulf Arab nations, all of which are close U.S. allies.

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, condemned the killing and reaffirmed his nation's commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism. "This heinous and obscene act represents a brutal escalation by the terrorist group, whose evil objectives have become apparent," he said.

The UAE is one of the most visible Arab members in the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS, which also includes Jordan. Bahrain, a Gulf state that is home to the U.S. 5th Fleet, denounced the killing as "despicable," and Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, blasted the killing as "criminal" and "vicious."

Qatar's Foreign Ministry also condemned the "criminal act contravening the tolerant principles of the Islamic faith, human values and international laws and norms." The tiny but very rich Gulf nation hosts the regional command center coordinating coalition airstrikes.

In predominantly Muslim Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the killing an act of "savagery" that had no place in Islam.

"There is no such thing in our religion ... and they have nothing to do with Islam," he said.

Iran, which has aided both Iraq and Syria against the IS group, said the killing of the pilot was an "inhuman" act that violated the codes of Islam, according to a statement by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government had tried to free two Japanese nationals before they were beheaded by ISIS last month, also condemned the pilot's killing.

"Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible and causes me nothing but strong indignation. Thus I express resolute condemnation," he said in a statement. "We must never give in to terrorism."

U.S. President Barack Obama said if the video is found to be authentic it would be "just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization."

Religious and political leaders have condemned past atrocities committed by ISIS, including the beheading of foreign journalists and aid workers, and the mass killing of captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers.


Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, doesn't think ISIS' intimidation tactics will work.

"The first beheading that they did was what brought the international community together the first time and I think this will likely backfire too," said Morell. "There will be an outcry internationally."

But the killing of al-Kaseasbeh, who had been the subject of intense negotiations over a possible swap with an al Qaeda prisoner on death row in Jordan, seems to have hit much closer to home.

The prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in a triple hotel bombing in Amman in 2005, was executed along with another al Qaeda prisoner at dawn on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Jordan's air force carried out more bombing raids against ISIS, reports CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata. Officials will also decide whether Jordan may send in ground troops in the fight against the terror group.

The pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper led its coverage of the pilot's killing with a one-word front-page banner: "Barbarity."

"How many Syrian al-Kaseasbehs are there?" asked an article in the left-leaning Lebanese daily Assafir. "How many ... are there, whose names we are ignorant of, slaughtered by the Islamic State and their brothers? How many Syrian al-Kaseasbehs have fallen in the past four years ... without news headlines on the television channels?"

Jordanian politician Mohammed al-Rousan wept on television as he described watching al-Kaseasbeh's death, saying even people attuned to violence could not bear to see a man burned alive.

But in an instant his grief turned to rage.

"Let's use the same methods as them!" he shouted during the interview with Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV. "Let's kill their children! Let's kill their women!"