BEIRUT (AP) — A statement attributed to Islamic State extremists claimed that an American woman held hostage by the group was killed on Friday, allegedly in a Jordanian airstrike on the militants’ stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria.
The woman was identified as Kayla Jean Mueller, an American who went to Syria to do aid work, but there was no independent verification of the claim and the United States said it had no evidence of her death.
The IS statement could not be independently verified but it appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users. The statement was accompanied by a picture of a damaged building. The posting said in part:
“A coalition aircraft bombarded a site outside the city of ar-Raqqah today at noon while the people were performing the Friday prayer. The air assaults were continuous on the same location for more than an hour…It was confirmed to us the killing of an American female hostage by fire of the shells dropped on the site.”
The online statement did not show any proof of Kayla Mueller’s death, and U.S. officials said they are investigating.
“We are obviously very concerned about the reports that have come in in recent hours. We do not at the present have any evidence to corroborate ISIL’s claims but obviously we will keep reviewing the information at hand,” U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with the president to Indiana Friday that the U.S. does coordinate with the Jordanian air force as they fly airstrikes. He wouldn’t say whether the U.S. was aware of the hostage’s location.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan was looking into the claim.
“But as a first reaction, we think it’s illogical and we are highly skeptical about it,” he said. “How could they identify a Jordanian warplane … in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?”
“It’s part of their criminal propaganda. They have lied that our pilot is alive and tried to negotiate, claiming he is alive while they had killed him weeks before,” al-Momani added.
ISIL claims female American hostage held in Syria killed by Jordanian airstrikeShe was only 26 years old determined to help ease the suffering in Syria. But ISIL said American hostage Kayla Mueller is dead and was killed in a Jordanian airstrike in Syria. The statement by the terror group was not accompanied by any proof. CCTV America's Nathan King reported this story.
Jordan’s Interior Minister knocked down the report, calling it another “PR stunt” by ISIL.
He said the extremists are trying to drive a wedge between the coalition by blaming Jordan for the death of the American. Jordan has stepped up air strikes in recent days following the release of video showing the brutal burning death of a captured Jordanian pilot.
The 26-year-old Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, is the only known remaining U.S. hostage held by the Islamic State group. Journalist Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria’s civil war. It’s not clear what entity is holding him, but it is not believed to be the Islamic State group or the Syrian government, his family has said.
If Mueller’s 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.
Mueller has been held hostage by ISIL extremists since August 2013. She was doing humanitarian work first with Syrian refugees in Turkey, then with Doctors Without Borders in the Syrian town of Aleppo, where she was taken.
In October 2011, Mueller uploaded a video to a Syrian activist YouTube channel. She said she felt a calling to help those suffering. In an interview with her hometown newspaper, The Daily Courier, Mueller 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 realize 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, 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 Mueller from the same local newspaper said she was a student at Northern Arizona University and was active in the Save Darfur Coalition.
The announcement naming Mueller also marked the second time this week the IS group announces the death of one of the hostages it holds.
IS released a video earlier this week, showing a captive Jordanian pilot being burned to death in a cage in gruesome images that sparked outrage in Jordan and across the region.
Friday’s statement, which appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users, said Mueller was killed during Muslim prayers — which usually take place around midday on Fridays — in airstrikes that targeted “the same location for more than an hour.”
On Sunday, Obama had said the U.S. was “deploying all the assets that we can” to find 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.”
Mueller’s identity had not been disclosed until now out of fears for her safety.
Jordan, which is part of a U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria, stepped up its attacks after IS announced it had killed the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh.
The Syrian government said Thursday that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred.
The Jordanian military said that Jordanian jetfighters carried out “a series of attacks today and destroyed the targets and returned safely.” It did not elaborate or give a location for the airstrikes.
But activists who monitor the Syrian conflict from inside the country said U.S.-led coalition planes hit several targets on the edges and outskirts of Raqqa, in quick succession on Friday.
A Raqqa-based collective of anti-IS activists known as “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” said the planes targeted multiple IS positions and headquarters in the western and eastern countryside of Raqqa, sending columns of smoke into the sky. Explosions could be heard in the city. The collective said there were no recorded civilian casualties, and did not mention IS casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of IS members were killed in coalition airstrikes that targeted a tanks-and-vehicles depot in the area of al-Madajen and at least six other IS positions, including a training camp and a prison.
Report complied with information from CCTV America and AP reports.
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