Aid Worker Held by Islamic State Is Dead, White House Says

In this May 30, 2013, photo, Kayla Mueller is shown after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz.

AP Photo/The Daily Courier, Matt Hinshaw

Kayla Jean Mueller, the U.S. aid worker from Arizona who was held hostage by Islamic State extremists, is dead, the White House confirmed after her family received a message from the terrorist group.

The message was received over the weekend by the family and authenticated by U.S. intelligence. Mueller, 26, had been held by Islamic State since August 2013 and was the last remaining known U.S. hostage held by the group.

“At this time of unimaginable suffering, the country shares in their grief,” President Barack Obama said of Mueller’s family in a statement Tuesday. “Kayla dedicated her life to helping others in need at home and around the world.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed through photographs sent to her family, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The photographs were studied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which determined with a high-degree of confidence that they were of Mueller and confirmed her death, said the person, who asked for anonymity because the information hasn’t been made public.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the information didn’t provide evidence of when or how Mueller died. Obama spoke twice with Mueller’s family, most recently to express his condolences, he said.

Islamic State claimed on Feb. 6 that Mueller was killed when the building where she was being held in Raqqa, Syria, a weapons storage facility, was bombed by aircraft from Jordan.

No Evidence

Earnest said there was “no evidence of civilians in the target area” at time of the strike. Echoing other officials, he said Islamic State is responsible for Mueller’s death.

Mueller had volunteered at a women’s shelter and a clinic for patients with HIV/AIDS at home in Arizona and worked with humanitarian groups in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to the White House. She was kidnapped while working for a group supporting Syrian refugees in Turkey.

In a letter she wrote in the spring of 2014 that was released by her family, Mueller wrote that she had been treated well and that she didn’t want the negotiations for her release to be her family’s burden, no matter how long it took.

“None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes,” she wrote.

Other Hostage

At least one more U.S. hostage still is being held in the region, Earnest said. While he declined to identify the hostage, the family of freelance journalist Austin Tice has said he’s being held in Syria, though not by Islamic State.

Tice’s parents have pushed for more family involvement in hostage recovery and for families to have a say in the review Obama ordered of U.S. hostage policy. That review will be finished “later this spring,” Earnest said.

Islamic State, which has amassed territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, previously beheaded U.S., British and Japanese journalists and burned a Jordanian military pilot alive in a cage. Jordan, part of a U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, stepped up its bombing of the group’s bases in retaliation for the brutal killing of its pilot.

The U.S. began a bombing campaign against Islamic State on Aug. 8. The U.S. and other members of the coalition have conducted 1,298 air strikes in Iraq and another 1,055 in Syria through Monday at an average cost of $8.4 million a day, according to Commander Bill Urban, the budget spokesman for the Pentagon.

Obama’s advisers are negotiating with lawmakers on the terms of legislation formally authorizing the use of military force against Islamic State. Obama relied on the 2002 Iraq war authorization to begin the bombing campaign. The White House is proposing a new authorization for three years that is narrowly focused on the fight against Islamic State.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee plans a hearing on how the Obama administration is responding to Islamic State on Thursday.

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