WASHINGTON D.C.: President Barack Obama on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) confirmed the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller, as warplanes from Gulf ally the United Arab Emirates rejoined the battle against her captors from the Islamic State (IS) group.
Obama vowed that Washington would hunt down the jihadists it held responsible for the 26-year-old aid worker’s death, as her family spoke of their heartbreak at losing “a free spirit.”
“No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death,” Obama said in a statement.
Mueller was captured in August 2013 in Aleppo, the war-ravaged city in northern Syria.
IS claimed last week she had been killed in an air strike by a Jordanian warplane in Raqa, the militant group’s self-proclaimed “capital,” also in Syria, where foreign fighters are flocking at an “unprecedented” rate to join IS and other extremists, US intelligence officials said.
US officials on Tuesday said they remained skeptical of the IS claims Mueller died in an air strike, noting there had been no evidence of civilians at that site before it was targeted.
“That certainly would call into question the claims that are made by ISIL,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, using an alternate acronym for IS, which has grabbed large areas of Iraq and Syria in a brutal offensive of beheadings and forced religious conversions.
The White House said IS had sent Mueller’s distraught family a “private message” that was “authenticated” by intelligence, allowing them to confirm her death. The Washington Post reported that Mueller’s parents had been sent a photo of their daughter’s lifeless body.
“Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity, and love for her,” her parents Carl and Marsha Mueller said.
In a letter released by her relatives, Mueller said she took strength during captivity in her faith in God and the love of her family.
“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free,” said a handwritten letter by Mueller which was smuggled out by fellow captives following their release by Islamic State jihadists
She also revealed times of doubt and darkness, but also resolve as she summoned the will to keep going.