AMMAN, Jordan — In one of Jordan’s largest demonstrations in years, thousands of people Friday shouted support for airstrikes against the Islamic State as the country’s leaders rapidly escalated their offensive against the militants.
The rally had all the hallmarks of government sponsorship and appeared designed to show support for king and country.
But even if the gathering lacked spontaneity, the emotions appeared heartfelt and allowed people to further vent their rage against the Islamist extremists, who earlier this week released a video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive.
The video has brought a deep shift in Jordan, which is closely allied with the West but has favored to remain away from the forefront amid the decades of conflicts on its doorstep.
Jordan’s normally cautious King Abdullah II has promised a “relentless” and “punishing” campaign against the Islamic State, which holds territory in Jordan’s neighbors Syria and Iraq.
Even Jordan’s Queen Rania, who has faced criticism for her elite tastes and a perceived distance from the people, was seen in the crowds — where protesters burned an effigy of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Royal Jordanian Air Forces sent “tens” of F-16 fighter jets on bombing runs against the Islamic State in Syria on Thursday, then returned to fly a “victory lap” over the home town of the murdered pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh.
Jordan’s armed forces released photographs of what appear to be missiles with handwritten messages to Islamic State: “Islam will soon be free of you!” and “For our hero, the martyr Muath!”
The state-run Jordan news agency Petra said the Jordanian warplanes “destroyed” training centers and weapons silos used by the militants.
“This is the beginning,” the military promised in a statement that included a warning to the militants: “You will know who the Jordanians are.”
According to media reports, Jordanian airstrikes also hit several Islamic State targets in the Iraqi city of Mosul early Friday. If confirmed, it would mark Jordan’s first military operations in neighboring Iraq as part of the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State. Since joining coalition bombing runs in September, Jordan had limited its operations to Syria.
Sky News Arabic, citing Iraqi sources, reported Jordanian warplanes killed “over 35” Islamic State fighters overnight in their stronghold in and around Mosul in northern Iraq.
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said airstrikes against the group were “just the beginning” of Jordan’s military retaliation.
It is hard to measure the popular anger in Jordan and where it will lead the nation and its 53-year-old monarch, a former commander of special forces troops and a seasoned pilot of attack helicopters.
For the moment, Jordan definitely has its blood up.
At the rally, old men said they would volunteer to fight and the youths begged to be martyrs, considered a honor by many Muslims. Protesters came representing Jordan’s influential tribes, political parties and sports teams. The crowds also included employees of area hospitals and even a telecommunications company.
Similar state-sanctioned protests were staged in 2005 after suicide bombings at hotels in Amman that claimed 60 lives. But the current fervor appears bigger and more intent on revenge.
“We need to hit them where they live,” said Riad Hassan, 60, a newspaper vendor. “And burn them all.”
“This is no longer America’s war. This has become our war,” said Ahmad Bararseh, 53, a municipal administrator.
“We want airstrikes, and we want ground troops,” said Mohammad Faouri, 54, an engineer. “We want both.”
Until now, the small Middle East kingdom has tried mightily to stay out of the Syrian civil war.
Jordan has a well-regarded military and one of the keenest intelligence services in the Middle East, but the country also has been defined by its moderation and hospitality. The country shelters millions of Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Some Jordanians — even at the anti-Islamic State rally — were wary of rushing too fast, too deep into the Syrian killing fields.
“God willing, there won’t a single fighter in Islamic State left alive,” said Fatima Zuwaida, 50, a housewife. “But I’m afraid it would be very dangerous to send our soldiers into Syria. Jets are safe. Jets are better.”