Jordan pilot killed by IS: A village remembers its hero

Jordan pilot killed by IS: A village remembers its hero
The much loved son of a family of eight children, is remembered as a humble, religious man who prayed that he would die defending his country.

Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, 26, grew up surrounded by beauty.

His home village Ay in the governate of Karak, southern Jordan, is perched on a lush, peaceful hillside, 611km away from the barren desert of Raqqa, Syria, where he met a fiery end when the Islamic State (IS) militants burnt him alive on Jan 3.

Moved by the horror of his death, thousands flocked to Ay village to pay their respects to the young man whom Jordan now hails as a hero. The task of speaking to the public falls heavy on the shoulder of his father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, a retired education professor.

Despite his pain, Safi finds the strength to speak out against IS and their brutal ways.

"We are very sad the way IS killed Muath. This is not from Islam where you are not allowed to kill prisoners," Safi says quietly.

"Prophet Muhammad has said that till the end of time, even dogs and cats cannot be burnt, what more a human being. Burning people is not written in any Holy book," adds Safi.

Even al-Qaeda condemned the burning of Muath as "deviant".

Shortly after, IS threatened to kill 17 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters the same way. Their fate remains unknown until today.

Tall and dignified, Safi enters the village's public hall - where well-wishers have gathered - and everyone stands up, kissing his cheek and hugging him when he passes them.

Safi's message comes as Bukit Aman revealed two Malaysians were spotted in an IS beheading video. To date, at least 67 Malaysians are known to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS.

The al-Kasaesbeh family hails from a high-ranking tribe known for its loyalty to the Jordanian monarchy. Muath's uncle is a major-general in the military.

"I am very proud of Muath because what he did was for his country, his tribe and his family," says Safi in a solemn tone.

"Muath is a good Muslim and he was fighting IS which is not Islam," adds Safi.

His death, while painful to his loved ones, is also a fulfilment of his life-long aspiration - to die defending his country.

"Each time he said his prayers, Muath prayed that he would die defending his country," says Ihab al-Kasaesbeh, 28, a cousin of Muath.

"We agree with what our government and Muath are doing, fighting IS. They (IS) don't belong to Islam. They are terrorists. Killing people without any reason," adds Ihab.

"I am very proud of Muath. He is a martyr," says Ihab, his eyes welling up before he hurriedly brushed his tears away.

Muath who hailed from a family of eight children, was known as a humble, religious man who prayed five times a day, says Ihab, a manager with the Cairo Amman Bank.

He grew up with Muath, and, as children, they saw each other every day as they attended the same primary and secondary school.

"Muath was my brother and my best friend," he says. "He was a very polite person, very smart and very religious. He prayed five times a day."

Throughout his primary and secondary education, Muath was a top student.

When he was 18, Muath won a government scholarship to study medicine in a Russian university as he had scored excellent grades in his science subjects.

But he turned down the scholarship as his childhood dream was to be an air force pilot.

He graduated from the King Hussein Air College in 2009 and soon joined the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF), qualifying as an operational pilot in 2012.

According to Ihab, King Abdullah II posthumously promoted Muath to the rank of captain from first lieutenant when he came to Ay to visit the family.

Inside the public hall, which is reserved for men, the mood is sombre. Men in kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headwear, and young Jordanian military personnel in uniform sat in rows of chairs.

"We have many people coming here (Ay) from the Middle East, not just Jordan. People came from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya," says Ihab.

"Many Christians from Jordan also came here."

Karak governate, which Ay belongs to, is a showcase of religious harmony.

"Karak is place which is a good example of how Muslims and Christians live peacefully together," says Jordanian journalist Adnan Borini.

A short distance away from the public hall stands Muath's family home. Elegantly dressed women in Western-style trench coats are seen entering to pay their respect to his mother.

"Muath's mother just returned from hospital. She is too fragile to speak to anyone," says a female relative.

According to Adnan, the mother of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Khdeir, 16, who was burnt to death by an Israeli extremist on July 14, 2014, sent a message to Muath's mother, Issaf, asking her not to watch the video of his gruesome death.

"She told Muath's mother to remember him when he was young and alive. It was a beautiful message," says Adnan.

It is not known whether Issaf watched the video or not.

In the message posted on Facebook, Mohamed Khdeir's mother says: "It is really hard on a mother to know her son was burnt alive.

"When I heard Muath was burnt, I felt he was my son Mohammed. I could not watch his (Mohammed) burnt body.

"You do the same. Remember Muath as the youthful guy and the most handsome man in your life."

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