The latest apparent hostage killing by ISIS represented a gruesome shift in its medieval tactics: The militants released a video purporting to show a Jordanian military pilot burned alive in a cage — a departure from a long series of beheadings.
The pilot, Lt. Muath al Kasasbeh, is the first from the American-led coalition against ISIS to be captured. He was on a bombing run over Syria in December when he was forced to eject and was taken by the militants.
And it’s no accident that they adjusted their murderous means to reflect the significance, analysts said.
“It’s saying: This is an eye for an eye. This is our form of justice,” said Laith Alkhouri, the director of Middle East and North Africa research for Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News consultant.
"The message is very clear why they burned the Jordanian pilot," Alkhouri added, noting that the video featured images of dead fighters and civilians. "It's meant to demonstrate that as we are caged in Syria and Iraq and you are launching these bombs of fire upon us, we can only do so in return."
“For ISIS, this is equal to the bombing and burning of purported civilians and children by the aerial bombardment.”
He also noted that the video contains a warning to other pilots and the Jordanian air force. It offers rewards for killing other pilots. And it is notably an Arab pilot who meets his end.
“It doesn’t get any more intimidating and provocative than this kind of video,” Alkhouri said. “It just shows that the group puts the Arab armies in the same ranks as the so-called crusader armies of the U.S.-led alliance.”
The video was released days after ISIS beheaded a Japanese journalist. Jordan had offered to release an al Qaeda prisoner in exchange for Kasasbeh.
The spokesman for Jordan’s armed forces, Mamdouh al-Ameri, confirmed Kasasbeh’s death. In a televised statement, he vowed “revenge” for the “hero pilot,” according to The Associated Press and Reuters.
Besides the tactical change, the video shows Kasasbeh surrounded by militants in sand-colored balaclavas and camouflage. Previous ISIS execution videos have tended to show black-clad fighters brandishing knives.
Evan Kohlmann, another analyst for Flashpoint, said that ISIS appeared to be seeking to regain shock value now that its beheading videos have become horrifyingly familiar.
“This amps up the shock value one more notch, and it regains the headlines for ISIS,” he said. Both Kohlmann and Alkhouri are NBC News analysts.
— Cassandra Vinograd and Erin McClam