This week it was announced that Kayla Jane Mueller who has been held by ISIS for more than a year, is dead. She and a Syrian friend were kidnapped when trying to drive back across the border from Syria to Turkey after he made a quick trip to fix the internet connection at a Doctors without Borders office. Though her death is now confirmed, information pertaining to what caused it still remains unverified.
Obama, who said telling hostages’ families that the U.S. won’t pay ransom is “as tough as anything I do,” also said that Mueller was one of the hostages the United States sought — and failed — to rescue in a raid in Syria last summer. The United States has a blanket policy that refuses to pay ransom for hostages that has tried to discourage financially motivated kidnapping. “The one thing that we have held to is a policy of not paying ransoms with an organization like ISIL. And the reason is once we start doing that, not only are we financing their slaughter of innocent people and strengthening their organization, but we’re actually making Americans even greater targets for future kidnappings,” Obama said. Citizens of many European countries, including France, Germany, and Italy, have been freed after ransoms were paid.
Reportedly, Mueller’s parents refused to believe their daughter was actually dead. They issued an impassioned plea from their Prescott, Arizona home and urged the extremist organization that has held their daughter captive since 2013 to privately contact them with proof of her death. Ms. Mueller who was 26, was shown in a black hijab in one photo and in another in a white burial shroud used in traditional Muslim funerals. There were bruises shown on her face but it’s unclear if the injuries are consistent with the statement that she was killed in the rubble of a flattened building.
The few photos the group sent of her corpse are among the few clues about her life and death in captivity along with a letter she wrote from her cell phone last year.
As NPR’s Marc Silver points out, “It’s a scary time to be an altruistic American abroad. The death of Kayla Mueller is a sobering reminder of just how dangerous the world can be for aid workers.” Hopefully Mueller’s death will raise awareness about the ever-looming threat of random violence in Syria that puts so many people at constant risk.