IS says airstrike killed US hostage

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Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Islamic State (IS) extremists claimed an American woman held hostage by the group was killed in a Jordanian airstrike in northern Syria.

But the government of Jordan dismissed the statement as “criminal propaganda” and the US 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 IS-affiliated Twitter users.

Ms Mueller, 26, of Prescott, Arizona, is the only known remaining US hostage held by IS.

If the death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while being held by IS 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 is not clear what entity is holding him, but it is not believed to be IS 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 on Tuesday showing Jordanian air force Lt Moaz al Kasasbeh, also 26, being burned to death in a cage in gruesome images that caused outrage in Jordan and the rest of the region.

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

Yesterday’s statement said Ms 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 Ms Mueller.

The statement said no IS 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 sceptical about it,” he said.

“How could they identify a Jordanian warplane … in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?

“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.”

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 US official said coalition aircraft did conduct bombing near Raqqa yesterday, but had nothing to confirm the claim that the American captive was killed in the airstrike.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the US co-ordinates with the Jordanian air force as they fly airstrikes.

Ms Mueller had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees, according to a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her home-town 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 realise 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, she had been working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life, as well as a local organisation that helped female Syrian refugees develop skills.

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

Republican Arizona Senator John McCain said Ms Mueller graduated in 2009 and had worked to help people in need in India, Israel, the Palestinian territories and in Arizona.

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

Jordan has stepped up its attacks against IS after the extremists announced they had put the pilot to death.

Its military said its warplanes carried out a series of attacks yesterday 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.

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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