The US special forces operation that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named after Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker captured and killed by the Islamic State in 2015.
On Sunday, United States National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said on NBC’s Meet the Press programme: “One of the things that General (Mark A) Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did was named the operation that took down al-Baghdadi after Kayla Mueller, after what she had suffered. And that was something that people should know.”
Who was Kayla Mueller?
Mueller, a resident of Prescott in Arizona, was only 26 when she was killed by the ISIS in Syria, after spending one-and-half years in captivity of the terrorist group. Mueller and other captives were tortured, and she was raped by al-Baghdadi himself. Her body was never recovered.
Mueller was a human rights worker who had travelled to many countries for her work, including to India in 2010. She taught English to Tibetan refugees and economically underprivileged women and children in Dharamsala.
In 2012, Mueller went to the Turkey-Syria border to help Syrian refugees, and worked with humanitarian groups such as the Danish Refugee Council, and Support to Life. In August 2013, she was taken hostage while visiting a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria.
While Mueller was in captivity and negotiations were on to release her, not much could be known about her ordeal, as ISIS had threatened to kill her if her identity was revealed.
However, after her death was confirmed in 2015, accounts were pieced together from the letters she wrote to her family from Syria, and from the testimonies of two Yazidi girls taken as slaves by ISIS, and others who were imprisoned with her.
From their stories, it was revealed that Mueller was moved around to different prisons. They would be kept in rooms with little light and were not given enough to eat. To one of the Yazidi girls, Mueller had said that she had been tortured, and had her nails pulled out.
For some months, Mueller was kept at the house of a senior Islamic State commander who went by the nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, where al-Baghdadi would regularly rape her.
Another ISIS hostage, Daniel Rye Ottosen, a Danish freelance photographer, was quoted by ABC News as describing an incident involving Mueller. Ottosen said the ISIS had once made Mueller meet prisoners about to be released to prove she was alive, and she had been brave enough to contradict an ISIS guard to his face.
“One of the Beatles [their name for ISIS guards] started to say, ‘Oh, this is Kayla, and she has been held all by herself. And she is much stronger than you guys. And she’s much smarter. She converted to Islam.’ And then she was like, ‘No, I didn’t,'” Ottosen told ABC News.”I would not have had the guts to say that. I don’t think so.”
After Mueller’s death was confirmed, ISIS claimed she was killed in a Jordanian air raid, an account that the US disputed. Mueller’s parents welcomed the news of al-Baghdadi’s death over the weekend, but said they still wanted to find out what had happened to their daughter.
“I still want to know, where is Kayla and what truly happened to her and what aren’t we being told,” her mother, Marsha Mueller, was quoted as saying by American media organisations.
“Someone knows, and I’m praying with all my heart that someone in this world will bring us those answers. I still say Kayla should be here, and if (former President Barack) Obama had been as decisive as President (Donald) Trump, maybe she would have been,” Marsha Mueller said.
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