By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI and ERIC SCHMITTFEB. 10, 2015
The parents of Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker abducted by the Islamic State, said Tuesday that they now had proof from the militant group that she was dead, four days after it claimed she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike.
The parents, who had publicly maintained hope that she was still alive despite the claim by her abductors, did not specify the proof furnished to them, saying only that American intelligence officials had confirmed the proof’s authenticity. The White House also announced that it had confirmed Ms. Mueller was dead.
But two people who had been briefed on the proof said it consisted of at least three photographs, all headshots. These people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is so sensitive, said two photographs showed Ms. Mueller in a black Muslim head covering, but that contusions to her face were visible. The third photo, they said, showed Ms. Mueller wrapped in a white burial shroud.
It was unclear whether the injuries seen in the photographs were consistent with the Islamic State’s assertion that Ms. Mueller, 26, died last Friday when Jordanian bombs flattened a structure in northern Syria where it said she had been held. Jordanian and American officials have challenged that assertion and have blamed the Islamic State for her death.
“We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life,” the parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller, wrote from their home in Prescott, Ariz. “We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work that she did while she was here with us. She lived with purpose.”
A family representative said the Muellers had received a message from their daughter’s captors over the weekend, containing “additional information which the intelligence community authenticated and deemed credible” as proof that she was dead. The representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, declined to give more details.
Ms. Mueller, who had been working in Turkey for at least two aid organizations dedicated to helping refugees from Syria’s civil war, traveled into Syria by car on Aug. 3, 2013, and was abducted a day later.
She apparently was traveling with a Syrian man, who has been described by some as her boyfriend or fiancé and by others as her friend or colleague. The man had been hired to repair the Internet connection at the compound used by Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity, in the war-struck Syrian city of Aleppo.
Employees of the charity said they had been expecting him to come alone, and were dumbfounded to see Ms. Mueller arrive with him. At the time, Western aid workers were avoiding travel into Syria because of the high risk of kidnapping.
The pair stayed overnight at the Doctors Without Borders compound, and were kidnapped the next day, Aug. 4, on their way to the Aleppo bus depot for their return journey to Turkey, according to a statement issued by the charity. The Syrian man was released after a brief captivity, and has declined to comment.
In a letter to her family that was smuggled out of Syria, which the Muellers shared publicly for the first time on Tuesday, Ms. Mueller wrote that she had not been mistreated, unlike several of the American and European hostages held by the Islamic State who are known to have been tortured, including by waterboarding.
“Everyone, if you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cellmates … have been released,” she wrote in the letter, which is not dated. “Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/utmost respect + kindness.”
The details of her captivity remain blurry. European and Syrian hostages who have been released by the Islamic State said they had been held in cells adjoining hers in a former potato chip factory north of Aleppo, as well as in at least two locations in Raqqa, the capital of the group’s self-declared caliphate. Men and women were held in separate cells in both locations, they said, but in at least one compound they were able to communicate with Ms. Mueller through the wall.
In Raqqa, she briefly had the company of three female employees of Doctors Without Borders. They were subsequently released. At the height of the hostage crisis in early 2014, she was one of at least 23 Western hostages, most of them Europeans, who were held by the Islamic State. Ms. Mueller and the three medical charity workers were the only women among them.
“The women were, in general, treated well,” said a former European hostage, and were not overtly abused the way male hostages were.
At a White House news conference, Josh Earnest, the Obama administration’s spokesman, said the information received by the Mueller family, as analyzed by intelligence officials, did not provide any insight into how she had died. Mr. Earnest also said, “I do not believe they were able to conclude when she died.”
However, Mr. Earnest disputed the Islamic State’s assertion that Ms. Mueller was killed in an airstrike last Friday conducted by Jordanian warplanes, which are participants in the American-led campaign to bomb areas in Syria and Iraq held by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
There was no evidence, Mr. Earnest said, “of civilians in the target area before the coalition strike.” And in any case, he said, the Islamic State militants who were holding Ms. Mueller “were responsible for her safety and well-being.”
“Therefore,” Mr. Earnest said, “they are responsible for her death.”
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, also blamed the Islamic State for Ms. Mueller’s death, but offered no details on how or when she died.
“ISIL is responsible for that death,” Admiral Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “But we’re not in a position to confirm the circumstances specifically, either to timing or to cause of death.”
Admiral Kirby expressed confidence that the military’s process for selecting targets — and avoiding risks to civilians — had been carefully followed in the attack on the building where ISIS said Ms. Mueller had been killed.
“We have no indication that there were civilian casualties as a result of those strikes,” Admiral Kirby said.
In Prescott, Mueller family members and friends held a midafternoon news conference on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse to remember Ms. Mueller for the passion that compelled her to go to the Middle East.
“Kayla has touched the heart of the world,” said her maternal aunt, Lori Lyon, speaking on behalf of the family. “The world grieves with us. The world mourns with us. The world wants to be more like Kayla.”
Kathleen Day, the head of the United Christian Ministry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said she had grown close to Ms. Mueller when she was a student at the school. They would talk about the world over dinners and even traveled together to Guatemala, she said.
Ms. Mueller wanted to share what she had seen in Syria — the lack of basic essentials and electricity but also the way people had banded together. She wrote blog posts and sent home messages asking for people to take action.
In Ms. Mueller’s death, Ms. Day said, the world was seeing up close what had been happening to the Syrian people after years of war.
“We’re seeing your suffering reflected in Kayla’s eyes,” she said. “It’s not that she’s so angelic. She saw things and did what she could, whatever she could, however she could.”
By erny, Source nytimes.com