ISIS: Arizona aid worker held hostage killed by airstrike

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

Islamic State says airstrike killed US hostage, US skeptical

BEIRUT (AP) -- Islamic State extremists claimed that an American woman held hostage by the group was killed Friday in a Jordanian airstrike in northern Syria, but the government of Jordan dismissed the statement as "criminal propaganda" and the U.S. said it had not seen any evidence to corroborate the report.

The woman was identified as Kayla Jean Mueller, an American who went to Syria to do aid work, but there was no independent verification of the militants' claim. The statement appeared on a militant website commonly used by the group and was also distributed by Islamic State-affiliated Twitter users.

The 26-year-old Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, is the only known remaining U.S. hostage held by the Islamic State group.

If the death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while being held by Islamic State militants. Three other Americans - journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig - were beheaded by the group.

Journalist Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria's civil war. It's not clear what entity is holding him, but it is not believed to be the Islamic State group or the Syrian government, his family has said.

The announcement was the second time this week that extremists announced the death of a hostage. They released a video Tuesday showing Jordanian air force Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, also 26, being burned to death in a cage in gruesome images that caused outrage in Jordan and the rest of the region.

Al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 came down in December while conducting airstrikes as part of a campaign against the militants by a U.S.-led coalition, was believed to have been killed in early January.

Friday's statement said Mueller was killed in the militants' stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria during Muslim prayers - which usually take place around midday - in airstrikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour."

It published photos purportedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged three-story building, but offered no proof or images of Mueller.

The statement said no Islamic State militants were killed in the airstrikes, raising further questions about the veracity of the claim.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said it was investigating.

"But as a first reaction, we think it's illogical and we are highly skeptical about it. How could they identify a Jordanian warplane ... in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?" al-Momani said.

"It's part of their criminal propaganda. They have lied that our pilot is alive and tried to negotiate, claiming he is alive while they had killed him weeks before," he added.

American officials said they also were looking into the report.

Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said the White House has "not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates" the claim."

"We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports," she added.

A U.S. official said coalition aircraft did conduct bombing near Raqqa on Friday, but had nothing to confirm the claim that the American captive was killed in the airstrike. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue with reporters.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters the U.S. coordinates with the Jordanian air force as they fly airstrikes. He wouldn't say whether the U.S. was aware of the hostage's location.

Mueller had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees, according to a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her hometown newspaper. She told the paper that she was drawn to help with the situation in Syria.

"For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal," she said. "It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done."

According to the newspaper, Mueller had been working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life, as well as a local organization that helped female Syrian refugees develop skills.

A 2007 article about Mueller from the same newspaper said she was a student at Northern Arizona University and was active in the Save Darfur Coalition. A statement from the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Mueller graduated in 2009 and had worked to help people in need in India, Israel, the Palestinian territories and in Arizona.

On Sunday, Obama said the U.S. was "deploying all the assets that we can" to find Mueller.

"We are in very close contact with the family trying to keep them updated," he said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. "Obviously this is something that is heart-breaking for the family, and we want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation."

Mueller's identity had not been disclosed until now out of fears for her safety.

Jordan has stepped up its attacks against the Islamic State group after the extremists announced they had put al-Kasaesbeh to death.

The Syrian government said Thursday that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred.

The Jordanian military said its warplanes carried out a series of attacks Friday and "destroyed the targets and returned safely." It did not elaborate.

Activists who monitor the Syrian conflict from inside the country said coalition planes hit several targets on the edges and outskirts of Raqqa in quick succession.

A Raqqa-based collective of anti-IS activists known as "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" said the planes targeted multiple IS positions and headquarters in the western and eastern countryside of Raqqa, sending up columns of smoke. Explosions could be heard in the city. The collective said there were no recorded civilian casualties, and did not mention any IS casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of IS members were killed in coalition airstrikes that targeted a tank and vehicle depot in the area of al-Madajen and at least six other IS positions, including a training camp and a prison.

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace and National Security writer Robert Burns in Washington, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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BEIRUT (AP) -- A statement attributed to the Islamic State group claimed an American female hostage was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Friday on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremist group's main stronghold.

The statement identified the woman as Kayla Jean Mueller and said she was killed during Muslim prayers - which usually take place around midday on Fridays - in airstrikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour."

No Islamic State militants were killed in the airstrikes, the statement further claimed.

It published photos allegedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged brown colored three-story building - but no images of the woman.

American officials said they were looking into the report, and the White House said it did not have immediate comment. There was also no immediate comment from the Jordanian government.

The IS statement could not be independently verified. It appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users.

Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees, according to a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her hometown newspaper. The 26-year-old told the paper that she was drawn to help with the situation in Syria.

"For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal," she said. "It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done."

According to the local paper, Mueller had been working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life, as well as a local NGO that helped female Syrian refugees develop skills.

A 2007 article about Mueller from the same local newspaper said she was a student at Northern Arizona University and was active in the Save Darfur Coalition.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. was "deploying all the assets that we can" to find Mueller.

"We are in very close contact with the family trying to keep them updated," he said in an interview with NBC's Today Show. "Obviously this is something that is heart-breaking for the family and we want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation."

Her identity had not been disclosed out of fears for her safety.

If her death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while in the captivity of the Islamic State militants. Three other Americans, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig were beheaded by the group.

Jordan, which is part of a U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria, stepped up its attacks after IS announced it had killed a captive Jordanian pilot. The Syrian government said Thursday that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred.

There was no word from the Jordanian government on whether its planes had struck Raqqa on Friday. But activists who monitor the Syrian conflict from inside the country said U.S.-led coalition planes hit several targets on the edges and outskirts of Raqqa, in quick succession on Friday.

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The Daily CourierPrescott woman gives aid to Syrian refugees

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed from Washington.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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BEIRUT (AP) -- A purported statement by the Islamic State group claimed that an American female hostage was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Friday on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the militant group's main stronghold.

The statement identified the woman as Kayla Jean Mueller and said she was killed during Muslim prayers - which usually take place around midday on Fridays - in airstrikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour."

No Islamic State militants were killed in the airstrikes, the statement further claimed.

It published photos allegedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged brown colored three-story building - but no images of the woman.

American officials said they were looking into the report. The White House said it did not have immediate comment.

The statement could not be independently verified. It appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by IS-affiliated Twitter users.

Mueller is an aid worker whose identity was never disclosed out of concerns for her safety.

A family representative told The Associated Press last year that the 26-year-old was working with humanitarian groups in Syria when she was captured in 2013.

If her death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while in the captivity of the Islamic State militants. Three other Americans, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig were beheaded by the group.

Jordan, which is part of a U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria, stepped up its attacks after IS announced it had killed a captive Jordanian pilot. The Syrian government said Thursday that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred.

There was no word from the Jordanian government on whether its planes had struck Raqqa on Friday.

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The Daily CourierPrescott woman gives aid to Syrian refugees

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Islamic State hostage is from Arizona

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- A hostage at the center of a conflict involving Islamic State militants is an aid worker who grew up in Arizona and was driven by her calling to help children whose lives were ripped apart by war.

Kayla Mueller described her mission during a speech to the Prescott Kiwanis Club during a visit home in 2013. The Daily Courier of Prescott covered the event as Mueller talked about her overseas work.

Mueller talked about children who were killed and had their families torn apart by war - and said she had to act to ensure the suffering does not continue. At the time, Mueller was working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life.

A purported statement by the Islamic State group claimed Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Friday in Syria. American officials said they were looking into the report.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Statement from Mueller family

"We, Carl and Marsha Mueller, are the parents of Kayla Jean Mueller. She has been held by ISIS in Syria since August 4, 2013.
 
To those in positions of responsibility for holding Kayla, in adherence to your warnings and out of concern for Kayla's safety, we have been silent until now.
 
After going to extraordinary efforts to keep Kayla's name out of the media for so long, by securing the cooperation of journalists throughout the world, her name was released today.
 
This news leaves us concerned, yet, we are still hopeful that Kayla is alive. We have sent you a private message and ask that you respond to us privately. We know that you have read our previous communications; John Cantlie made references to them in October.
 
You told us that you treated Kayla as your guest; as your guest, her safety and well-being remains your responsibility.
 
Kayla's mother and I have been doing everything we can to get her released safely.
 
At this time we ask you, who are holding Kayla, to contact us privately."