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Raid against Baghdadi was named for Kayla Mueller, US hostage killed in ISIS custody

Kayla Mueller holds a sign on May 30, 2013, after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. The parents of the late American hostage Kayla Mueller say they were told by American officials that their daughter was repeatedly forced to have sex with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group.

JO. L. KEENER/THE DAILY COURIER

By JENNIFER HASSAN | The Washington Post | Published: October 28, 2019

The "dark and dangerous" operation that claimed the life of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named after American Kayla Mueller, 26, who was kidnapped by the extremist group and killed in 2015.

Mueller, who was described by her family as a "compassionate and devoted humanitarian," traveled to Turkey in 2012 after her graduation and then crossed the border into Syria, on a mission to help those fleeing the civil war in the country. She was leaving a hospital run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders in the Syrian city of Aleppo when she was kidnapped in August 2013.

In a letter to her family that she wrote while in captivity, she urged her loved ones not to let her situation burden them. "I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty," she wrote, adding: "I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing.

"I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator," she wrote, invoking her religious beliefs throughout the letter.

In February 2015, the Islamic State claimed that Mueller was killed when a Jordanian fighter plane bombed the building in which she was being held. U.S. officials expressed skepticism about the claim, while the Jordanian government denied that its airstrikes had killed the American hostage.

The details surrounding Mueller's death and the whereabouts of her body are still unclear.

"We are heartbroken to share that we've received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life," her parents said in a statement in 2015.

In remarks on Sunday, President Donald Trump described in detail the operation that killed Baghdadi, saying that he "died like a dog" and that he blew himself up in a "dead-end tunnel" as U.S. troops moved in on him and three of his children.

Speaking Sunday to the Arizona Republic, Mueller's parents praised Trump's handling of the raid and expressed hope that they would one day find out more about what 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," Mueller's mother, Marsha, told the newspaper.

"I still say Kayla should be here, and if [President Barack] Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been," she added. The Muellers have been critical of the Obama administration in the past, telling ABC News in 2016 that it took over 17 months for Obama to follow up on his promise to donate money to the Kayla's Hands foundation.

"The president could have been a hero, but he chose not to be," Mueller's father, Carl, told ABC News.

Carl Mueller told the Republic that it was "important" to him that Trump was aware of his daughter's story and that it was clear to him that the president had been briefed on it. "I don't think anything would have stopped him [Trump] from getting this guy," Carl Mueller said, adding that he had faith that Trump would continue to target others like Baghdadi.

Describing his daughter's ordeal at the hands of the Islamic State, Mueller's father said, "She was held in many prisons. She was held in solitary confinement. She was tortured. She was intimidated. She was ultimately raped by al-Baghdadi himself."

In 2016, federal prosecutors offered more details about the abuse that Kayla Mueller is said to have faced in captivity when they charged an Iraqi woman with playing a role in her imprisonment. Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, also known as Umm Sayyaf, told FBI agents that Mueller and other captives were kept in locked rooms and sometimes handcuffed. The affidavit indicates that Mueller was made to watch disturbing Islamic State propaganda videos and was raped by Baghdadi.

Speaking to NBC News on Sunday, national security adviser Robert O'Brien described Baghdadi as a "brutal, vicious terrorist" and said the United States had finally brought to justice a man with a history of killing Americans, including journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Calling Mueller a "great young American," O'Brien said it was Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who decided to name the operation that killed Baghdadi after her.

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