They arrived in the village of Ay on Friday in buses and long automobile convoys – hundreds of people from all over Jordan – to pay homage to the country’s newest hero: F-16 pilot Moaz al Kasasbeh, whom the Islamic State burned alive after his plane went down over Syria.
There were sheikhs and students, military officers and businessmen, and Prince Ali, brother of King Abdullah. Well over 1,000 people, representing the major tribes of the desert kingdom and in many cases just themselves, offered their condolences to Safi Kasasbeh, the pilot’s grieving father, in his hometown.
“I’m from Ramtha,” a middle-aged man announced as he took the microphone in the vast tent set up to accommodate those paying their respects. He was dressed in the traditional Bedouin brown robe and wore a red and white checkered keffiyeh, or head scarf.
“We are gathering here for your son, but he isn’t only your son, he is Jordan’s son,” he said, addressing Safi Kasasbeh. “We are here to honor not Moaz al Kasasbeh, but Moaz Jordan.”
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Ramtha is in the far northwest of Jordan, at least a five-hour drive from Ay, which lies south of Amman. The man wasn’t the only one to travel a long distance.
A representative of Aqaba, about 150 miles due south of Ay, stood up to announce that the Red Sea resort had renamed a stadium, a street, a public building and even a traffic circle to honor the slain airman. According to other mourners, this is happening now in towns and villages all over Jordan.
But the most applause went to a man who introduced himself as the brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator who was put to death in 2006 after a trial in Iraq. Moaz “was a martyr, like Saddam,” said the speaker. “We will not forget Saddam Hussein.”
The comparison was completely implausible, but the crowd was sympathetic and erupted in approval.
Mourners said they hadn’t seen an outpouring of national feeling like this since King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, died.
Kasasbeh’s home village, about 10 miles from the nearest town of Karak, is perched on a hillside with a view that on a clear day extends almost to Israel. The Dead Sea is about an hour away by car.
The Jordanian army was everywhere present, without being overwhelming. As new groups arrived in buses and cars to pay their respects, F-16s of the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew overhead. The army also provided a traditional lunch of lamb and rice in a separate tent.
Earlier, at the main mosque in the village, a military chaplain led Friday prayers before a congregation, at least half of whom were in uniform or sported military-style haircuts. In his sermon, the clergyman, whose insignia indicated he was a colonel, stressed that Islam does not condone the torture of prisoners and he derided the Islamic State as “inhumane,” and “not Muslim at all.”
“Our son Moaz, he’s a martyr,” he said. “He’s now in heaven, looking at us and happy.”
Lt. Kasasbeh was 27 when his plane caught fire Dec. 24 over Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, in circumstances that haven’t been explained. He was unable to break free of his ejection seat on landing and was soon captured by Islamic State militants. About 10 days later, according to Jordanian officials, his captors ordered him into a cage and, cameras rolling, set him on fire. A 22-minute video that included footage of his death was posted online Tuesday.
After the service, hundreds left the green-domed mosque and walked slowly up the hill to the white tent to attend the third and final day of public mourning.
Among them was Akram Dosuqi, who lost a brother in a 2005 attack on an Amman hotel carried out by al Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State. He expressed satisfaction that one of King Abdullah’s first acts of retribution after the Islamic State posted the video was executing one of the bombers in that plot, Sajida al Rishawi, whose suicide vest failed to explode.
He said he and about 30 other members of the Dosuqi family had driven from Amman to express condolences for Kasasbeh’s death at the hands of the “godless gangs.”
“Everyone is happy because they have been hanged,” he told McClatchy, referring to Rishawi and the al Qaida in Iraq member executed with her, Ziad al Karbouli.
The most eloquent of the speakers was Moaz’s father, a retired schoolmaster.
“When we heard that Moaz was captured, I thought it was only my problem,” Safi Kasasbeh told mourners. “But it was all of Jordan’s problem. All of Jordan is like us. He passed away as a martyr for all of us.”
The people who killed him “are savages, criminals,” he went on. “They steal Islam from our hearts.”
He thanked King Abdullah, who’d come here Thursday, for ordering airstrikes against the Islamic State that same day, and he said other Arab nations should follow suit, “and not sit at home and say it is up to the Jordanians.”
“We are all Jordanians,” he said. “We will be together, whatever it takes.”