The operation that resulted in the death of Islamic State terrorist leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi was named after Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who traveled in 2012 to the border of Turkey and Syria to work with humanitarian organizations only to be kidnapped by ISIS in 2013 and reportedly raped by al-Baghdadi himself before she was reportedly killed in 2015.
“The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff named the operation that took down al-Baghdadi after Kayla Mueller, after what she had suffered,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday after President Trump announced the death of the terrorist leader. That decision, O’Brien said, “was something that people should know.”
In his national address Sunday, Trump specifically named Kayla as one of the victims of al-Baghdadi’s “depraved” terrorist organization. “Their murder of innocent Americans — James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller — were especially heinous,” said Trump, who went on to list the murder of a Jordanian pilot and the execution of Christians and Yazidis among the atrocities carried out by the barbaric terrorist group.
In a phone interview with CNN, Kayla’s father Carl Mueller said the family has been experiencing a “roller coaster” of emotions” since Trump’s announcement Sunday morning. Kayla’s mother, Marsha Mueller, added that they were “deeply touched” by what President Trump said in his televised national statement and “grateful” that the military “didn’t mess around” and took action.
“We were grateful that they didn’t mess around and went right in,” she said. “I just want to say how grateful we are to this administration, to the military, and to the special forces that went in,” she added. “My hope is that this will help us get answers to what really happened to Kayla and get her home.”
In another interview Sunday, Mrs. Mueller coupled praise for Trump with criticism of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been,” she told The Arizona Republic. “For me what matters most, I’m hoping now we will finally get the answers we have been asking for all along. I think this administration truly might help us. I don’t think they are as closed about what happened.”
“[President Trump] knows her story,” Mr. Mueller told the outlet. “He’s been briefed on it, and he knows, and that’s important to me. I don’t think anything would have stopped him from getting this guy.”
“What this man did to Kayla — he kidnapped her,” Mr. Mueller, fighting back tears, said of Baghdadi. “She was held in many prisons. She was held in solitary confinement. She was tortured. She was intimidated. She was ultimately raped by al-Baghdadi himself. He either killed her or he was complicit in her murder.”
In August 2016, the Muellers accused Obama on national television of failing to follow up on a promise to donate to a foundation set up in Kayla’s name, Kayla’s Hands, after her death had been confirmed.
“I’m still waiting for that donation, Mr. President,” said Carl Mueller told ABC News in 2016, as reported by The Hill. “[Obama] says, ‘You won’t know, it’ll be an anonymous donation, but I will,’” said Mueller. But the Muellers say no donation ever came.
The Muellers also said the Obama administration threatened to prosecute them if they tried to pay the $6.2 million ransom demanded by ISIS for their daughter’s release.
“The president could have been a hero, but he chose not to,” said Mr. Mueller.
In response to the criticism, Obama’s White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest offered a slippery statement.
“I’m not going to speak to any private conversations the president has had with the Mueller family,” Earnest said, as The Hill reported. “What I will say is that the president is aware of the foundation, Kayla’s Hands, that’s been formed to honor her memory, to honor her life’s work. It certainly is consistent with the kind of charitable organization that the president and the first lady have supported in the past.”
While Kayla’s body was not identified, she was reportedly killed in 2015 by a Jordanian airstrike targeting ISIS. After traveling to the region in 2012 to work with humanitarian groups, Kayla was kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in 2013 and, according to reports, “raped repeatedly” by al-Baghdadi.
“Months after the Muellers confirmed their daughter’s death in 2015, U.S. special forces killed ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf and apprehended his wife, known as Umm Sayyaf,” The Arizona Republic reports. “Soon, reports emerged that Umm Sayyaf had been responsible for holding Mueller captive so that al-Baghdadi could rape the American repeatedly. ”