Tuesday 12 December 2017

Islamic State says female US hostage killed in Syria

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Arizona is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters February 6, 2015.
REUTERS/Mueller Family/Handout via Reuters
Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Arizona is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters February 6, 2015. REUTERS/Mueller Family/Handout via Reuters

A statement attributed to the Islamic State group claimed an American female hostage was killed in a Jordanian air strike today on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremist group's main stronghold.

The statement identified the woman as Kayla Jean Mueller and said she was killed during Muslim prayers - which usually take place around midday on Fridays - in air strikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour".

No Islamic State militants were killed in the air strikes, the statement claimed.

It published photos allegedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged brown coloured three-storey building - but no images of the woman.

Demonstrators in Amman chant anti-Islamic State slogans and carry posters with pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah II. (AP)
Demonstrators in Amman chant anti-Islamic State slogans and carry posters with pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah II. (AP)

American officials said they were looking into the report.

The IS statement could not be independently verified. It appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users.

Ms Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees, according to a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her home town newspaper. The 26-year-old told the paper that she was drawn to help with the situation in Syria.

"For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal," she said. "It's important to stop and realise what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done."

According to the local paper, Ms Mueller had been working with the humanitarian aid agency Support To Life, as well as a local NGO that helped female Syrian refugees develop skills.

A 2007 article about Ms Mueller from the same local newspaper said she was a student at Northern Arizona University and was active in the Save Darfur Coalition.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama said the US was "deploying all the assets that we can" to find Ms Mueller.

"We are in very close contact with the family trying to keep them updated," he said in an interview with NBC's Today Show. "Obviously this is something that is heart-breaking for the family and we want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation."

Her identity had not been disclosed out of fears for her safety.

If her death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while in the captivity of the Islamic State militants. Three other Americans, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig were beheaded by the group.

Jordan, which is part of a US-led coalition bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria, stepped up its attacks after IS announced it had killed a captive Jordanian pilot. The Syrian government said that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centres and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred.

There was no word from the Jordanian government on whether its planes had struck Raqqa today. But activists who monitor the Syrian conflict from inside the country said US-led coalition planes hit several targets on the edges and outskirts of Raqqa, in quick succession today.

Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said the White House has "not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates" the claim.

"We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports," she added.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters travelling with the president to Indiana that the US does coordinate with the Jordanian air force as they fly air strikes. He would not say whether the US was aware of the hostage's location.

Press Association

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