IRBIL, Iraq — Jordan executed two prisoners early today to avenge the burning alive of a Jordanian fighter pilot in a move that seemed likely to thrust the usually peaceful country into the front lines of the battle against the Islamic State.
Jordanian state television said one of the executed prisoners was Sajida al-Rishawi, the 44-year-old Iraqi woman whose release the Islamic State had demanded in return for the life of a Japanese hostage killed last week. The other was Ziad al-Karbouli, a jihadist who once worked with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, the organization that was the precursor to the Islamic State.
Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani announced in Amman that two prisoners had been executed at dawn. Bothj al-Karbouli and al-Rishawi had been in prison for nearly a decade.
Jordan had announced it would move quickly to avenge the murder of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, whose horrific execution was made public Tuesday by an Islamic State video that showed him being led to a cage in the desert, doused with gasoline and set alight.
"While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians," Mamdouh al-Ameri, a government spokesman, said in a statement read on Jordanian TV.
What other steps the Jordanian government might take were uncertain, but officials suggested that they would move rapidly to crack down on the group's sympathizers and that other measures were likely, including stepping up the country's role in the U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State.
The prospect of an all-out offensive against the Islamic State inside Jordan could prove unsettling to a country that has prided itself on remaining largely outside the line of fire in the region's many wars. Even during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Jordan remained largely free of violence, with the notable exception of a series of suicide bombings in 2005.
Al-Qaida in Iraq was the precursor of the Islamic State, which now has designs to establish a caliphate that would stretch from Iraq to the Mediterranean and take in what is known as Greater Syria — which includes the modern nations of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.
Several experts said that by burning the Jordanian pilot to death, the Islamic State was demonstrating a new level of barbarity intended to convey several messages — a more open hostility to the Jordanians, who in addition to participating in air raids on Islamic State targets in Syria have also encouraged anti-Islamic State activists to travel to Syria to fight; to reinforce its reputation as the globe's most barbaric terrorist group; and to enhance its efforts to recruit sympathizers from across the world.