Reports are emerging that the Islamic State may have offered a trade of humanitarian Kayla Mueller and that the U.S. government refused. Kayla Mueller was confirmed dead today after her parents contacted the media and said they had received proof that she was no longer alive.
Mueller was a humanitarian aid worker who was abducted in Syria in August, 2013, as she left a Doctors Without Borders Hospital with what she said was a boyfriend who was Syrian. The boyfriend was released by ISIS after several days, but Mueller was never released. ISIS chose to speak directly with her parents, at one point demanding a $7 million ransom, and at that time they provided proof she was still alive, according to the family. ISIS also demanded that the family and press keep her name and specifics out of the public eye, which they did because they feared for her life.
However, this weekend news broke that ISIS was declaring Kayla Mueller dead, a casualty of Jordanian air strikes in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where she was being held. The family apparently revealed that they had received word from ISIS and evidence in the form of pictures that their daughter was dead, which U.S. intelligence confirmed as well.
A number of rescue and negotiation attempts to free Mueller failed, officials in Arizona said.
Representative Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he and his staffers tried to facilitate Mueller’s release on several occasions. Negotiations between the family and ISIS at one point, he said, included discussion about whether Mueller could be exchanged for a prisoner being held in Texas who was convicted for conspiring “with the enemy,” but no more details on that situation or who that prisoner was are known at this time. It is unknown how far that negotiation went, what President Obama’s role was, or why negotiations stopped.
According to government officials, it is unknown how Kayla Mueller died, but many do not believe the Islamic State’s claim that she died during airstrikes. The Islamic State murdered a Jordanian pilot last week in their most brutal execution to date that we know of: they put him in a cage, doused him in accelerant, and set him aflame while he was alive, recording in detail the entire death and releasing that footage to certain populations.
It would not be the first time that negotiations were made by the United States in return for an American being detained by terrorists in the Middle East. American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was believed to be a U.S. military deserter while serving in Iraq, was exchanged in return for five al-Qaida members who were being held at Guantanamo Bay. The decision to trade the five men in exchange for Bergdahl was highly controversial at the time, as it was feared that the five who were released would go on to become powerful terrorist leaders. The Islamic State is a break-off group of the Taliban, who are even more brutal than any former group of jihadists, and make much of their money through ransom and extortion. It is believed that at least some of the men who were released in exchange for Bergdahl are now powerful players in the Islamic State.