The family of a humanitarian aid worker has agreed to release her name now, leading to the first congressional reactions from her home state senators in Arizona.
ISIS claimed today that 26-year-old Kayla Mueller from Prescott, Ariz., was in a building near Raqqa that was allegedly hit by a Jordanian airstrike. They claimed she was alone and no jihadists were killed in the strike.
Mueller was kidnapped in August 2013 while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.
“Kayla had been working along the Turkish-Syrian border for months helping the thousands of innocent men, women and children whose lives were torn apart by the humanitarian catastrophe created by Bashar Assad and the Syrian civil war. Since her graduation from Northern Arizona University in 2009, Kayla had dedicated her life to helping people in need around the world – in India, Israel, the Palestinian territories and back home in Arizona,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.
“While I have no new information today on Kayla’s current situation, I do know from speaking regularly with her family that she is extremely devoted to the people of Syria, and to doing all she can to alleviate the terrible suffering which has left more than 200,000 people dead and driven millions from homes into refugee status. I also know that Kayla is extremely well-loved and dearly missed by her family and friends in Arizona,” McCain continued.
“I ask that the news media please respect the privacy of the Mueller family at this difficult time, and for all Americans to say a prayer for Kayla, her family, and her safe return home to those who love her.”
Doctors Without Borders said in a statement today that Mueller was not employed by the group.
“On August 3, 2013, a technician sent by a company contracted by MSF arrived at one of the organization’s structures in Aleppo, Syria, to perform repairs. Unbeknownst to the MSF team, Kayla, a friend of the technician’s, was accompanying him. Because additional time was required to carry out the repair work, the technician and Kayla were harbored overnight at the MSF hospital in Aleppo, due to safety concerns,” Doctors Without Borders said.
“Upon completion of the repair work on August 4, the MSF team organized transportation for Kayla and the technician to the Aleppo bus station, from where they were to depart for Turkey. Kayla’s detention occurred during the drive to the bus station.”
Like in the case of the Jordanian pilot, whom they tried to use as a bargaining chip after burning him alive, ISIS hasn’t offered recent proof of life. Nor have they offered proof of Mueller’s death — the three photos released are just of a damaged building.
ISIS had contacted her family and demanded $6 million for her release.
Jordan says ISIS’ claim, meant to drive a wedge in the coalition, is a “PR stunt.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the reported events “can be laid squarely at the feet of ISIL.”
“She deserves to be remembered for dedicating her life to the service of others,” Flake said. “My thoughts, like those of so many across Arizona and around the globe, are with Kayla’s family. The best thing Congress can do now is authorize the mission against ISIL to let our allies and our adversaries know that we are united in our resolve.”
Mueller’s congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), stressed it’s “important to wait for the intelligence community to gather more information before making any conclusions.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf would not confirm the report or get into the topic of Mueller’s captivity. “Obviously, as you can imagine, these are very sensitive situations, so we’re just not going to get into those details,” Harf said.
“I can assure you that our intelligence community is looking into them,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters. “…I can tell you that, of course, the United States of America spares no effort to secure the safe release of any American held overseas. That includes exhausting military options, intelligence resources, diplomatic channels, obviously the financial stranglehold we put on ISIL.”