As rumors began to spread Friday of a 26-year-old American hostage dying in a Jordanian airstrike on ISIS strongholds, her family confirmed her identity as Kayla Mueller, who has been in captivity since August 2013.
Her death has not yet been confirmed through either the State Department or her family; and the word of ISIS extremists has proven less than credible.
Mueller, of Prescott, Ariz., had been involved in local and international charitable work since high school. She had been helping refugees of Syria’s civil war, mostly in southern Turkey since late 2012, alongside aid groups Support for Life and the Danish Refugee Council. She was captured by ISIS in August 2013 outside a hospital managed by the Spanish branch of Doctors Without Borders, in Aleppo, Syria. (RELATED: ISIS Claims Female 26-Year-Old US Hostage Killed In Jordanian Airstrikes)
In a press release, her family said she was dedicated to her “heartbreaking but compelling” work, and “extremely devoted to the people of Syria.” When last visiting Arizona in 2013, she told the local Daily Courier that “as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.”
Media and government outlets had protected Mueller’s identity until her family’s public statement on Friday, though President Obama confirmed the existence of a woman matching her profile as recently as Monday. Officials have not yet confirmed the accuracy of ISIS’ claim that she is dead, or that the latest round of Jordanian airstrikes killed her. (RELATED: Jordanians Demand Blood In Avenging Pilot’s Death)
Since the start of 2015, ISIS has been strangely cavalier in its treatment of hostages, often killing them before extracting rewards. Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh was killed by immolation on Jan. 3, though negotiations continued for his release until early February.
Analysts have speculated that Mueller had already been killed, noting the convenient propaganda value of Jordan’s retaliatory airstrikes immediately killing a Western victim.
Mueller may have been the last American in the group’s custody. ISIS had reportedly demanded a $6.6 million ransom for her release before announcing her death on Friday.
Details in the ISIS statement announcing her death have also aroused suspicion. It claims that bombs fell “for over an hour” during Friday’s noontime congregational prayers, and “not a single mujahid was struck, thank God,” despite the presumable need to secure the group’s most valuable remaining hostage. The only photographs were of a cinderblock building, purportedly outside the group’s Syrian capital of Raqqa, that had been turned to rubble; no images have surfaced of Mueller herself in captivity.
Nicolas Henin, a French freelance reporter and escaped ISIS prisoner, tweeted shortly after ISIS made its announcement, that “Kayla Mueller was among the very last of my former cellmates still detained. I was full of hope she could have a way out.”
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