In its first military response to the Islamic State’s killing of its pilot, Jordan said Thursday it had sent dozens of F-16 aircraft to attack Islamic State targets in Syria, possibly its biggest intervention so far in the war.
But for many Jordanians it was way short of what’s needed to avenge the Islamic State’s act of burning Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh alive, and then broadcasting it to the world in a video.
If interviews of 20 people in Jordan’s two biggest cities is a predictor, citizens of all backgrounds and ages hope for an all-out war that will result in the total defeat of the extremist group. And they’d like the United States to send ground troops in to finish the job but doubt that support will be forthcoming.
“We should smash them into the ground,” said Abu Majid, 56, who manages a sewing machine store in Zarqa, a city of some 800,000 whose claim to fame includes being the birthplace of the founder of al Qaida in Iraq, the precursor to the Islamic State. Like most interviewed for this story he didn’t want his full name used and instead used the Arabic word “Abu,” which means “father of.”
It would be “an honor to fight those people,” he said. “We should use our ground and air forces. The United States should support us, but in our situation, we should not wait for help from anyone.”
His condemnation suggested that Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who Thursday met the family of the deceased pilot, even as air force jets flew overhead, could have a major challenge fulfilling the expectations of this nation of 6 million. Abdullah promised Wednesday to “hit hard at the very center” of the Islamists’ strongholds.
Jordan’s military, totaling 105,000, is well trained, according to the annual “Military Balance” report of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Britain. On paper, Jordan has a 3-to-1 manpower advantage over the Islamic State, should Abdullah send ground troops.
Not everyone thinks that’s a good idea. “I think the Jordanians are at risk of overreacting and making choices that cause it greater troubles down the road,” said Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
Zarqa, a hardscrabble, dusty city of potholed roads, run-down housing and high unemployment, is the hometown of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaida in Iraq, which later changed its name to the Islamic State. In random interviews with a dozen people, no one spoke positively of him, and most said they knew nothing beyond media reports that U.S. forces shot him dead in 2006.
Whatever sympathy the Islamic State once enjoyed is apparently over, however. Just one month ago, many Jordanians were happy that there was an Islamic State, Abu Majid said. But after the beheadings of two Japanese and the burning alive the Jordanian pilot, “We pray to God to kill them, to banish them from the Earth,” he said.
Abu Odai, 41, who runs a hardware store nearby, said that before Kasasbeh’s death, the Islamic State was “just another news item.”
“But now, I am against it. I cannot accept what happened,” he said.
Repeatedly, residents said they were offended by the Islamic State’s gross violations of Islamic law.
Abu Mohammad, a carpenter, volunteered not only to send his four sons but to join the fight himself. “I am 54. I will go before my sons to fight, after what they did,” he said, pounding his fist on the table of a tailor’s shop. “I want to protect my Islam.”
He called for the U.S. to join Jordan in a ground war against the Islamic State. “One hand cannot clap. You need two hands,” he said.
Many doubted U.S. support. “Americans should have acted already because Daash has killed many Americans,” said Abu Hamid, 32, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
“They are rats,” he said as he puffed on a waterpipe at a Zarqa cafe. “The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Treat prisoners well.’ What they have done is insanity.”
Abdullah, 31, a waiter, could not understand why the United States had not moved more firmly against the Islamic State. He challenged a visiting reporter to explain U.S. policy. “What if it had been an American pilot” burned in a cage? he asked. “Would they not start a war the next day?”
Thursday evening in Amman, dozens of members of the Al Assaf tribe gathered for a rally in a tent located at an Amman traffic circle to announce their solidarity with the Kasasbeh family. Some of the young men demonstratively set alight posters showing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, then stomped out the embers.
The tribe, which is from the Amman area, plans to travel Friday along with other tribes to Karak, Kasasbeh’s hometown south of Amman, to pay respects to his family.
Abdullah Karim, a tribal elder, said Jordan’s response to the death of Kasasbeh had hardly begun.
“We will do our best to smash those rats,” he said. “We will show the world what Jordan can do.” But he couldn’t say what that meant. “I don’t know how we will do it. We will act. You will be surprised,” he said. The Jordanian army was not 105,000 people, he said. “It is 6 million.”
At a café in central Amman, four young men welcomed a reporter approaching to ask if they, too, would volunteer to fight the Islamic State. Three were 18, and one 22.
“Moaz is our brother and son,” said Rami Shawar, 18, a high school student. “We are all Moaz,” an echo of the chant in Paris after the Islamic extremist attack last month on the staff of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper. He described the Islamic State as “godless people” who did to Moaz what “you wouldn’t do to an animal, no less a Muslim to a Muslim.”
He said the four young men would eagerly volunteer to fight. “We are prepared to act for Jordan,” he said. “Not only us. But all of Jordan.”
The unity of the country was a theme in every conversation in Zarqa or Amman, and nearly everyone said the next step was up to King Abdullah.
“The first aim of Daash was to divide and frighten Jordanians,” said Mahmoud Aludaily, 22. “But as a result of what Daash did, we are together, and our unity is our strength.”