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IS claims US hostage Kayla Mueller killed in airstrike. Propaganda or possible?

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Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier/AP/File

(Read caption) Kayla Mueller is shown after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz., in 2013. A statement that appeared on a militant website commonly used by the Islamic State group claimed that Mueller 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 IS statement could not be independently verified.

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The self-proclaimed Islamic State on Friday claimed that a US woman held hostage by the group had died in a Jordanian airstrike.

An IS Twitter message translated by the SITE Intelligence Group said the woman had died beneath the rubble of a building in the Raqqa area of northern Syria. The message claimed that no IS fighters were hurt in the attack, and that it occurred during midday prayers on Friday and lasted for an hour.
IS identified the woman as Kayla Jean Mueller.

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The claim could not be immediately verified. Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the Obama administration National Security Council, said the White House had not seen any corroborative evidence.
“We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports,” said Ms. Meehan.

The family of Kayla Mueller confirmed her status as an IS captive. Her name had been kept secret until now due to fears for her safety, though an administration official inadvertently mentioned her first name during a television appearance last month.

Ms. Mueller worked for an international aid organization named Support for Life, among other groups, according to a report in Foreign Policy. In a May 2013 speech in her native Arizona she described playing with displaced Syrian children in Turkish refugee camps and helping one young boy find his family after the camp itself was attacked.

Mueller encountered youngsters being forced into combat, children hurt by unexploded bombs, and kids as young as eight working because their schools were targeted by Syrian government bombs, she said in her 2013 speech to the Prescott Kiwanis Club. She said Syrians were dying by the thousands, while asking why the world was allowing such misery to continue.

“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she said to the Kiwanis, according to an account in the Prescott Daily Courier.

She was taken captive on Aug. 4, 2013, after leaving a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria, according to Foreign Policy. She had little experience in Syria and no local network but appears to have accompanied a Syrian boyfriend into the country.

Jordan is a US ally in the fight against the brutal IS. It has stepped up its airstrikes in recent days in retaliation for the group’s murder of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath Kassasbeh.

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Earlier this week, IS released a video that appeared to show Lieutenant Kassasbeh being burned alive in a steel cage. The barbarity of this action infuriated Jordanian leaders, who vowed vengeance.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, meeting in Washington with US lawmakers, said he would take his cue from the Clint Eastwood Western “Unforgiven.”
“The only problem we’re going to have is running out of fuel and bullets,” said King Abdullah, according to lawmakers who were there.

Western experts were highly skeptical of the IS claim that its US hostage had been killed by the weapons of a US ally.
Some intelligence experts believe that the video purporting to show Lieutenant Kassasbeh’s death had been taped weeks ago. It was released at a time IS leaders thought it might have maximum impact. Similarly, IS might believe that an announcement of a US hostage friendly-fire death might help it manipulate opinions in the outside world, blunting American support for Jordan’s airstrikes.

Supporting details of the announcement, from its claim that airstrikes took place during the holy time of Friday prayers, to its boast that no IS fighters were harmed in the incident, are too pat and call its veracity into question, writes Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, in The Long War Journal.

“While it is certainly possible Mueller has been killed, the Islamic State’s description of how she was allegedly killed could very well be a propaganda ploy,” writes Mr. Joscelyn.

Jordanian officials were dismissive of the claim. Interior Minister Hussein Majali called it an IS “PR stunt.”

US officials said they were in close contact with Mueller’s family in an attempt to keep them updated in a heartbreaking situation.

If Mueller’s death is confirmed, she would be the fourth US hostage to die while in the hands of IS militants. The group beheaded three other Americans, including journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.