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In Jordan, A Family And A Country Feel The Loss Of A Pilot

Editor's Note: Jordan is a staunch ally of the US in the war against ISIS. A year ago, it paid a price when one of its planes crashed in Syria and ISIS captured a pilot. NPR's Alice Fordham kept in touch with his family

It was so cold, the day I first met the parents of Moath al-Kasasbeh, that they were wearing coats in their immaculate living room as they waited to receive me. Bundled up, they looked solid and dignified.

Their 26-year-old son, the captured pilot, was then probably the most famous man in Jordan after King Abdullah II.

There were photos all over the internet of ISIS fighters pulling him out of a river, wet and bleeding. Tribal leaders were trying to negotiate a prisoner swap. The king had sworn to do everything he could. Jordanian radio and TV played tributes to him every few minutes.

Probably mindful ISIS might hear my report, his parents, Isaaf and Safi al-Kasasbeh, told me they didn't think Jordan should be bombing ISIS at all. They pleaded that their son was a Muslim and ISIS should show mercy.

They bore it all bravely, they were measured and courteous. They tried to persuade me to stay to lunch. But there was a snowstorm coming and I had to go. We agreed I'd come back when their son was safe home.

A few weeks later, ISIS burned the pilot alive. The gruesome scenes from the video were everywhere for a few days. The parents were widely interviewed. And Jordan revved itself up into an anti-ISIS frenzy.

I wanted to go back and see them but time slipped by, and I only returned to Jordan last month. I found Kasasbeh's mother in a hospital, recovering from a chest infection. She was doing well, out of bed, in a green flowered housedress, hospitably offering apples and candy. She's treated like royalty there. All the doctors come to pay their respects, and call her the "mother of the martyr."

But the torrent of news and attention has faded. Jordan hasn't actually carried out an airstrike since August. Isaaf al-Kasasbeh says she can't get Jordan's royal family to answer her questions about how her son's plane went down, or if it's negotiating for the return of his body. The Middle East's chaos has moved on, claiming more victims whose death might make news for a day or two.

But she had a calm about her I remembered from the first time I met her, and told me she was fine.

"My son was martyred," she said, "and I live in the dignity of what happened."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.