United States president Barack Obama has confirmed the death of Kayla Jean Mueller — who was taken hostage by the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria — and vowed to hunt her captors.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The 26-year-old Arizona aid worker was seized in Aleppo in August 2013.
Last week IS claimed she had been killed in a Jordanian air strike in the Syrian city of Raqa, the militant group’s proclaimed “capital”.
That account was treated with scepticism, but over the weekend IS sent Mueller’s parents a “private message” with “additional information”, that allowed the intelligence services to confirm her death, the White House and family said.
“Over the weekend, the family received a private message from Kayla’s ISIL captors containing additional information,” White House national security council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.
Kayla dedicated her life to helping others in need at home and around the world.US president Barack Obama
“Once this information was authenticated by the intelligence community, they concluded that Kayla was deceased.”
The Washington Post reported that Mueller’s family had been sent a photograph of their daughter’s body.
Mueller was believed to be the last US hostage being held by IS, following the execution of AFP contributor James Foley and American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff.
In a statement read out by her aunt Lori Lyon, Mueller’s parents Carl and Marsha Mueller expressed their heartbreak but said they were proud of her and the humanitarian work she did.
“We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work that she did while she was here with us,” they said.
“She lived with purpose, and we will work every day to honour her legacy.
“Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity, and love for her.”
Mueller dreamt of being released
In a letter from captivity in early 2014 — which was partially redacted — Muller said she was “completely unharmed” by her captors but heavy-hearted about the toll it must be taking on her family.
“Just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears,” she wrote in the letter released by her family.
“If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through.”
She dreamt about family camping trips and imagined meeting them at the airport if she were released.
“I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation,” she said.
Mr Obama praised Mueller’s humanitarian work at home, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“Kayla dedicated her life to helping others in need at home and around the world,” he said.
“In Prescott, Arizona, she volunteered at a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic.
“She worked with humanitarian organisations in India, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, compelled by her desire to serve others.
“Eventually, her path took her to Turkey, where she helped provide comfort and support to Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes during the war.”
US officials said they had no evidence to support IS claims that she was killed in a Jordanian air strike, adding the details surrounding her death remained unclear.
Two US government sources said that it appeared most likely that she was killed in some kind of combat situation in which her captors were unable to keep her safe.
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