When ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller’s family confirmed her death on Tuesday, they knew because the terrorist group had personally emailed them evidence she was dead.
The family received at least three photographs of Mueller’s corpse, according to The New York Times. In two, her body was wearing a black headscarf, presumably shortly after her death. In a third it was wrapped in a traditional Islamic funeral shroud. (RELATED: ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller: ‘I Have A Lot Of Fight Left’)
It seems likely that this evidence led U.S. government analysts to conclude that Mueller had, in fact, died in ISIS custody. The direct cause of her death remains unclear. The extremists say she was killed by Jordanian airstrikes, but photographs in their initial statement, as well as descriptions of the images given to her family, seem to contradict the claim.
The photograph of a funeral shroud indicate more considerate treatment of Mueller at ISIS’ hands than some other prisoners received. Intelligence officials have speculated that she was given as a “bride” to a male jihadi fighter.
While initial reports stated that Mueller had been ISIS’ last American hostage, others have claimed there is at least one more American in the group’s custody. (RELATED: US Hostage Kayla Mueller Confirmed Dead In ISIS Territory)
According to the Muellers’ congressman Rep. Paul Gosar, the U.S. government made at least one rescue attempt, in which a man approached an ISIS camp in Syria and identified himself as her husband. But Mueller, unaware of the plan, denied that she had a husband, thereby accidentally passing up a chance at freedom.
The Daily Beast has reported that the Muellers also tried to set up a prisoner exchange similar to that which secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. In the plan, their daughter would be freed in exchange for Aafia Siddiqui, an al-Qaida co-conspirator with degrees from MIT and Brandeis University who is currently serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas.
Foreign hostages’ families have been put through turmoil throughout the Syrian civil war and the ensuing rise of ISIS as a transnational jihadi “brand.” The U.S. and U.K. both have staunch “no-ransom” policies, on grounds that paying a ransom for captives is an unreliable way of securing their safety, and that it simply encourages the continued kidnapping of innocents. But Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have all successfully paid ransoms for the release of their citizens.
The parents of Austin Tice, an American journalist and former Marine who vanished in Syria in August 2012, has repeatedly demanded more government accountability for their son’s fate. The State Department has speculated, based on very limited evidence, that Tice may be held by Bashar Assad’s government regime.
The families of beheaded American ISIS hostages James Foley, Peter Abdulrahman Kassig, and Steven Sotloff have also expressed frustration with the administrations no-ransom policy. Some relatives sent their own messages to ISIS, trying to negotiate terms of release, and saying they would gladly pay federal fines for ransoming their loved ones. But even in the presence of trustworthy intermediaries, U.S. government officials have reportedly refused any attempt to set up formal channels for negotiation with the group, and ignored credible intelligence on prisoners’ potential whereabouts.
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