A Jordanian fighter jet that crashed over Syrian territory controlled by the Islamic State group was not shot down by the militant group, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday.
The jet, an F-16, crashed near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa on Wednesday. Its pilot was reportedly taken captive, and pictures released by pro-ISIS outlets showed what appeared to be the aircraft's cockpit canopy being paraded through the town by militants.
However, in a statement, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said that “evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming.” The U.S. military refers to ISIS by the acronym ISIL. The U.S. statement did not say what it believes the cause of the crash was.
Centcom commander General Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing all coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, added: “We strongly condemn the actions of ISIL which has taken captive the downed pilot. 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.”
The pilot has been named by ISIS as Flight Lieutenant Moaz Youssef al-Kasasbeh. In a statement, cited by the BBC, the Jordanian military said: "Jordan holds the group [ISIS] and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life."
Earlier, Jordan's Information Minister Mohammad Al-Momani told satellite TV station Al Hadath that the jet fighter "was shot at from the ground by rocket missiles and was brought down" and that an attempt to rescue the pilot before he was captured had failed, according to the Independent.
The pilot's brother, Jawad al-Kasasbeh, asked that ISIS "be supportive of our brother Moaz and to be merciful on him, please send him back to us. He is just a soldier who is following orders and has no authority," and added that he was a "pious man who prays and fasts and he always flies with his Quran with him," according to CNN.
ISIS is known to have stocks of Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles, which were long part of Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals, and were used to down a British tornado jet during the first Gulf War in 1991, according to Fox News.