AYY-ALKAREK — The revenge of the king will rain down from the heavens.
King Abdullah has left no doubt about Jordan's immediate response to the brutal execution of pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who was burnt alive by the Islamic State (ISIS). Two Islamists held by Amman were quickly executed, which was followed Wednesday by an air attack in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The King gave the order shortly after returning from Washington. But he did something else upon landing back on Jordanian soil: he called the pilot's father, Safi Youssef al-Kaseasbeh, telling him, "Your son is like my son" — referring to Crown Prince Hussein.
Shortly afterwards, F-16s with the Hashemite star flew over the village of Ayy Al Karak where the pilot's family is in mourning, and from there they sailed towards the stronghold of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's would-be ISIS caliphate in northern Iraq. Abdullah promised his kingdom a "tough response against ISIS," and, according to news outlets, 55 jihadists died, including a local commander called the "Prince of Nineveh."
But, this is only the beginning, and nowhere could that be felt more than here in the pilot's home village. Al-Kaseasbeh's father called for vengeance, referring to ISIS as "cannibals who spread underground like the devil, and the only way to destroy them is to stick together — the whole world must fight against them united."
Under the traditional mourning tent in this Bedouin village, Youssef Safi voices his desire for the entire country to react to the heinous crime. Before him, in single file, are dozens of generals, officers and ordinary soldiers of every army unit. Each of them, in full uniform, takes off his cap, bows, kisses him on the cheeks or hands, offering personal condolences to the family.
Also present is a crowd of sheiks and leaders of the Bararsheh tribe who participated in religious silence in solidarity for al-Kaseasbeh, who died in a cage of flames. Although the crowd are composed in their mourning, anger broods — cremation is forbidden in Islam.
The pilot's father in mourning. Photo: Molinari
Streams of teenagers run through the streets adjacent to the victim's house chanting: "Long live the King, death to Daesh [ISIS]." The air here is filled with desire to "go and look for them, fight, kill them wherever they are," says Maher, 27, a Jordanian who lives in Britain.
"The people are united," he says, "ready to do whatever the King asks us."
Earlier on Wednesday, a two-hour drive from Ayy Al Karek, at the entrance of the Queen Alia International Airport, thousands of people arrived to welcome King Abdullah on his return from the U.S. Young people of Amman draped in flags paraded behind banners that overlap images of the king and al-Kaseasbeh.
"Abdullah, our King," sing the choir, "Open the borders to Syria and Iraq, we want to go and find them, bring them death." Alongside them, a group of veiled woman chant, "burn Daesh, we'll burn them all."
A new role for Abdullah?
This is a crowd that reflects the different souls of the kingdom. Sheikh Mohammed di Maan, wearing a jalabya with a gold border, describes the pilot's murderers as "cursed by God and by men." Siam Ahmrimat is a 47-year-old lawyer and is here with her colleague Alia Shawaks "to show that Arab women want to fight too."
Omar, 21, is a Palestinian from the refugee camp and raises a giant sign of support to the King. "I am ready to give my life to fight the impostor who calls himself the caliph," he says.
Not far away, Zaid al-Sheik, an 80-year-old tribal leader, puts his hand on the Jordanian flag and makes a solemn public promise: "My youngest son will become a pilot."
"We are all pilots, death to Daesh!" responds the crowd in unison, as a procession of imams and faithful chanting Koranic phrases arrive, and it all culminates in an "Allahu Akbar" that infects the now overflowing square.
"Islam is here, we are the true Muslims," says Chalef, a university student from Amman. "Daesh is a false Islam."
These Jordanian scenes mark the first mass protest against ISIS in an Arab country. If the group's aim in exploiting the capture and execution of al-Kaseasbeh was to weaken the reign of King Abdullah — by fomenting friction between the tribes — the result seems to be the opposite. The people, Bedouins and Palestinians, have converged around their ruler and promised to "do whatever he asks," says a woman in her twenties wearing a coloured veil. "I am a Syrian refugee," she says, "I know these demons."
It remains to be seen what Abdullah's next steps will be. The hanging of female terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi — whom ISIS wanted in exchange for Japanese prisoner Kenji Goto — and al-Qaeda Colonel Ziad al-Karbouli are just the beginning. The King must decide how to "bring war to these cannibals," as al-Kaseasbeh's father put it. This means having to avenge the wounded pride of the tribes who support the monarchy. Abdullah's first move was sending jets to Mosul but he must quickly demonstrate greater commitment; at home against jihadist cells, as well as with the international coalition to truly weaken ISIS.
The Jordanian involvement marks the aggressive intervention of an Arab country, but it remains to be seen whether Abdullah is truly prepared to accept the risk. At the moment the most obvious result is that the he has shown his kingdom won't be pushed by the caliphate.
Amman had risked creating tension with the Bedouin leaders in early January, when the government reportedly first learned that the pilot was dead. They kept the news from his family, continuing to try to negotiate with ISIS for the exchange of terrorists. The tribe became suspicious that the kingdom was holding back information. But in the end, the grotesque way al-Kaseasbeh was killed has pushed the people and the crown together, putting Abdullah in a position to be the Arab leader to spearhead the offensive against the jihadist caliph.