Newspaper article International New York Times

Hostage's Kin Get Proof of Death ; Militant Group Sends American's Parents Photographs of Body

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hostage's Kin Get Proof of Death ; Militant Group Sends American's Parents Photographs of Body

Article excerpt

Islamic State, which had held Kayla Mueller captive since August 2013, sent her parents at least three photographs of her corpse.

For one tortured weekend, the parents of Kayla Mueller refused to believe that their daughter was dead. From their home in Prescott, Ariz., they issued an impassioned plea to the Islamic State, which had held her captive since August 2013, and urged the extremist organization to contact them privately with proof of her death. The militants acquiesced and sent at least three photographs of her corpse.

Those photos are among the few clues about her life and death in captivity, as is a letter that she wrote from her cell last year and that her family made public on Tuesday.

Two people who had been briefed on the family's communication with the Islamic State said that her parents received at least three photos. Two showed Ms. Mueller, who was 26, in a black hijab, or Muslim head covering, that partly obscured her face. Another showed her in a white burial shroud, which is used in traditional Muslim funerals. The images showed bruises on the face, but both people who reviewed the photographs, and who asked not to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter, said it remained unclear whether her injuries were consistent with being killed in the rubble of a flattened building, as the Islamic State reported.

The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, said on Twitter last week that Ms. Mueller died in a building that had been demolished by Jordanian airstrikes, a claim both the White House and Jordan's government said was unfounded.

Yet the images sent to her family did not rule out death in that manner.

One of the two people briefed on the evidence said that Ms. Mueller's face did not show puffiness or other concussive effects associated with a bomb blast, making it unlikely that she was killed when the area was hit, as the Islamic State said. But the same person said that she could have been in a nearby building or struck by flying debris.

American officials confirmed that the structure was bombed in coalition airstrikes last week.

The authorities insisted that the building, a weapons storage facility, was a legitimate target and explained that they had conducted detailed surveillance to make sure that no hostages were seen going in or out. But a senior American official who requested anonymity to discuss classified information acknowledged that they had not been able to survey the building around the clock.

"We have no definitive evidence of how, or when, she died," he added.

Described by friends and family members as a deeply idealistic young woman eager to help those less fortunate, Ms. Mueller was just shy of her 25th birthday on Aug. 4, 2013, when she disappeared in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

She had arrived in Syria a day earlier with a Syrian man who has been described as her boyfriend or colleague. …

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