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Islamic State extremists capture Jordanian pilot

Omar Akour and Bassem Mroue
Associated Press

Amman, Jordan — Islamic State militants captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed in Syria while carrying out airstrikes Wednesday, making him the first foreign military member to fall into the extremists’ hands since an international coalition launched its bombing campaign against the group months ago.

Images of the pilot being pulled out of a lake and hustled away by masked jihadis underscored the risks for the U.S. and its Arab and European allies in the air campaign.

The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presented a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the U.S. military insisted the plane was not shot down.

“Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming,” Central Command said in a statement.

U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing all coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, condemned the pilot’s capture, saying in a statement: “We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery and will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

A coalition official, who was not authorized to discuss the episode publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pilot was in an F-16 fighter and was able to eject.

Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani earlier told the AP that the plane was believed to have been shot down.

“It is our expectation that the plane went down because of fire from the ground, but it is difficult to confirm that, with the little information we have,” he said.

The Islamic State group is known to have Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles.

The shoulder-fired weapon has long been in the Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals; it was used during the 1991 Gulf War by Iraqi forces to bring down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters.

The warplane went down near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital.