(August 14, 1988 – c. February 6, 2015)
Islamic State leader Baghdadi ‘raped’ Kayla Mueller
An American aid worker who was killed in February while held hostage by Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, was sexually abused by the group’s top leader, US officials tell ABC news.
Kayla Mueller, 26, was repeatedly raped by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they said.
Counterterrorism officials made her family aware of the abuse in June.
Mueller was abducted while working in Aleppo, Syria, in 2013. IS said she was killed in a Jordanian air strike, but the US blames IS for her death.
“We were told Kayla was tortured, that she was the property of Baghdadi. We were told that in June by the government,” her parents, Carl and Marsha, told ABC News.
Baghdadi personally took the humanitarian aid worker to the home of another senior IS member – Abu Sayyaf – who was in charge of IS oil and gas until his death in a US special forces operation in May, ABC news, citing US officials, reports.
US special forces raid
The channel said he regularly visited the compound where she was being held and repeatedly assaulted her.
Officials said they had obtained information about the abuse from at least two teenage Yazidi girls who were held hostage as sex slaves and found inside the Sayyaf compound at the time of the US attack.
Mueller was reportedly held for some time by Sayyaf and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who was also captured by US special forces in May.
At the time, the Pentagon said Umm was suspected of being an IS member and of being complicit in the enslavement of a young Yazidi woman who was rescued in the raid.
Hundreds of young women and girls – many of them Yazidis captured in northern Iraq – are believed to be held as sex slaves by IS militants in areas under their control.
The Yazidi girls provided intelligence used by the US to interrogate Sayyaf’s wife, who “spilled everything” about several IS leaders and their whereabouts, a counterterrorism official told ABC.
Umm Sayyaf was handed over to the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq last week to face trial.
The information that has come to light appears to contradict speculation that Mueller was treated well in captivity, as a letter written in 2014 and smuggled out to her family implied.
In it, Mueller tried to reassure her family, saying that she had been treated with “utmost respect + kindness”.
The humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Arizona, travelled to the Turkey-Syria border in 2012 to work with refugees.
Kayla Mueller’s letter from captivity before her death
Kayla Mueller’s family have released a letter sent by the IS hostage before her death in what the jihadist group says was a coalition air strike in Syria.
Everyone,if you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released. I have asked them to contact you +send you this letter.
It’s hard to know what to say.
Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.
I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.
If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.
I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God.
I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.
I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful.
I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another…
I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation. I have had many a long hour to think, to think of all the things I will do w/ Lex, our first family camping trip, the first meeting @ the airport.
I have had many hours to think how only in your absence have I finally @ 25 years old come to realize your place in my life.
The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my family, my support.
I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time. This should never have become your burden.
I have asked these women to support you; please seek their advice. If you have not done so already, [REDACTED] can contact [REDACTED] who may have a certain level of experience with these people.
None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me.
I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes.
I wrote a song some months ago that says “The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left…” aka ‐ the thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.
Please be patient, give your pain to God.
I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing.
Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.
All my everything,
August 14, 1988 – c. February 6, 2015
Kayla Jean Mueller (August 14, 1988 – c. February 6, 2015) was an American human rights activist and humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Arizona. She was taken captive in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, while leaving a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital.
Media had long reported that a 26-year-old American aid worker was being held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) without naming her at her family’s request. Her captivity and death were widely reported upon confirmation of her death.
Activism and humanitarian aid
Mueller was a native of Prescott, Arizona, where she graduated from Tri-city College Prep High School. She attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 2007. She supported a variety of causes at home and abroad, in various areas and with many different services including humanitarian aid, human rights, youth mentorship, environmental activism, journalism, and English teaching. Her human rights activism and humanitarian aid included working in India with Tibetan refugees, supporting Tibet cause. Her work in the Middle East included volunteering for Palestinian humanitarianism with the International Solidarity Movement and helping African refugees in Israel with the African Refugees Development Center.
- African Refugees Development Center, for whom she volunteered at a summer camp in Israel.
- America’s Promise, an organization which facilitates volunteer action for children and youth
- Amnesty International, for whom she founded a student chapter at Northern Arizona University.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a one-on-one youth mentorship organization in the United States.
- Contact Magazine, a Tibetan publication for whom she served as a journalist and an editor.
- Danish Refugee Council, for whom she worked to help Syrian refugees in Turkey.
- Food For Life Vrindavan, a local branch of Food For Life, which provides free food, education, and medical care for those in need in the region, for whom she taught English and kindergarten students.
- Food Not Bombs, during college.
- International Solidarity Movement, with whom she accompanied Palestinian families and children going to school.
- Just Peace, a social justice project of United Campus Ministries at Northern Arizona University, with whom she went on a humanitarian aid trip to Guatemala and with whom she advocated against torture and Guantanamo Bay.
- LHA Charitable Trust in Dharamsala, India, for whom she volunteered as an English teacher.
- New Day Peace Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, for whom she helped to establish services for veteran students at Northern Arizona University and at Coconino Community College.
- Northern Arizona University Center for Intercultural Education, which provides services to international students at Northern Arizona University.
- Plum Village, the French monastery of Thích Nhất Hạnh, for whom she volunteered in the center.
- Prescott Area Women’s Shelter, where she worked during the nights to help meet the needs of homeless women, children, and families.
- Save Darfur Coalition, with whom she volunteered for three years, for whom she conducted multiple letter-writing campaigns and led two silent walks.
- STAND, for whom she served as the President of STAND:NAU, a local chapter at Northern Arizona University, as well as the Southwest Regional Outreach Coordinator of the parent organization.
- Support to Life, an international aid organization, for whom she worked to help Syrian refugees in Turkey
- Tibetan Hope Center, an organization that helps Tibetan refugees to gain life skills to live independently in India, for whom she taught English and compiled a monthly newsletter.
- Youth Count, where she volunteered in Prescott, Arizona participating in multiple environmental and inter-generational projects.
Capture and death
Mueller started working in southern Turkey in December 2012, where she was assisting Syrian refugees. On August 3, 2013, she drove to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo with a coworker/friend who was traveling to the Spanish Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Aleppo to work for a day. She worked with international aid agency Support to Life. On her departure from Aleppo to return to Turkey, militants abducted her.
According to anonymous sources of American reporter Catherine Herridge, the location of Mueller and other American hostages was known by the White House in May 2014, but a decision on a rescue mission was not made for seven weeks. By that time, the hostages had been dispersed.
A media account affiliated with ISIS released a statement on February 6, 2015 claiming that a female American hostage held by the group was killed by one of around a dozen Jordanian airstrikes in ar-Raqqah, Syria. The statement came just days after the release of a video showing the burning of Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh by the militant group and the subsequent execution of Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi and other prisoners of Jordan. The statement was later translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, identifying the hostage as Mueller.
Mueller had been in ISIS custody for 18 months. A US mission to rescue her and several others in northern Syria in July 2014 failed when ISIS moved the prisoners. The US was unaware of her location since, though her family was told negotiations were underway to swap her for Aafia Siddiqui, according to Arizona House Representative Paul Gosar. ABC News and CBS News reported that sources in the intelligence community believe Mueller may have been “given over” to an ISIS commander in a “forced marriage” and the group did not view her as a bargainable hostage. In a letter to her family, she spoke of being healthy, well-fed and treated with the utmost kindness and respect in a safe place. ISIS members corresponding with the Muellers referred to Kayla as their “guest”.
On February 6, 2015, ISIS published a photo of a damaged building, named Mueller and her home town and alleged she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike in the building where she was left alone with no guards, but no proof of death was provided. The Pentagon agreed the building was one hit in the bombings, but disputed that Mueller, or any civilian, was inside. The site had been bombed by the coalition twice before, and was targeted again because ISIS soldiers sometimes return to bombed sites, thinking the coalition won’t return, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. After this, Mueller’s name was released by American and other media with the family’s consent.[not in citation given]
On February 10, 2015, Mueller’s family announced ISIS had confirmed her death to them in an e-mail, with three photographs of her dead body, bruised on the face and wearing a black hijab. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said this message was authenticated by the intelligence community. President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Mueller’s family.
Mueller’s parents reportedly implored ISIS to contact them as they hoped their daughter may still be alive. “We have sent you a private message and ask that you respond to us privately”, Carl and Marsha Mueller said in a statement. They said they had not talked to the media as ISIS warned them not to.
An American official cautioned that without proof of Mueller’s death, the statement by ISIS could be a ploy to cause the Jordanians and the rest of the American-led coalition to refrain from any heavier airstrikes.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called ISIS’s claim “an old and sick trick” on Twitter. “So they behead innocent #US #UK & Japan hostages & BURN a brave #Jordan pilot ALIVE & now a hostage is killed by an airstrike? Sure! Sick!”, he said. He further tweeted: “An old and sick trick used by terrorists and despots for decades: claiming that hostages human shields held captive are killed by air raids.” Later upon confirmation of Mueller’s death he tweeted: “Saddened & angered to hear news confirming killing of #US hostage #kaylaMueller. Yet another ugly example of these terrorists’ brutality.”
After many Western news outlets cast doubt on the claim of the hostage death and the extremists’ ability to identify Jordanian and U.S. made F-16s flying at high altitudes, Jordan dismissed the claim of a killed hostage as an ISIS publicity stunt and a lie, as the group is known for its propaganda techniques.
After Mueller’s family confirmed her death, President Obama said “[Mueller] represents what is best about America, and expressed her deep pride in the freedoms that we Americans enjoy, and that so many others strive for around the world.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying “ISIL, and ISIL alone, is the reason Kayla is gone.”
The Pentagon declined to investigate whether Mueller was killed by the coalition airstrike. Policy dictates the US only investigates reports of civilian casualties when they come from a “credible source”, which ISIS is not.
Time magazine named Kayla Mueller as an ideal role model for Millennials, citing her selfless desire to end suffering, her activism, and her humanitarian aid work, praising her desire not to be seen, but to genuinely help people, and lauding her possession of Millennials’ positive good qualities of idealism, optimism, and love of families without troublesome qualities also associated with the Millennial generation.
On February 23, 2015 the Mueller family was interviewed on The Today Show by Savannah Guthrie. Carl Mueller expressed his frustration with the Obama administration over the way it conducted negotiations with their daughter’s captors and their policy of not paying ransom money for hostages. “We understand the policy about not paying ransom, but on the other hand, any parents out there would understand that you would want anything and everything done to bring your child home,” Carl Mueller said. “And we tried, and we asked. But they put policy in front of American citizens’ lives. And it didn’t get it changed.”