Among her torturers also was the notorious Jihadi John, the British ISIS leader shown in videos beheading American James Foley and many others.
British intelligence, the Muellers learned, for months in 2014 tracked this elite entourage that included Kayla and other hostages in northern Syria. They gave the United States the location of a building plus its interior layout in Raqqa where about two dozen Western hostages were held. The U.S. government was slow to mount the Delta Force operation, and when it did—seven weeks later on July 4, 2014—the hostages had been moved elsewhere. ISIS intermediaries told the Muellers in an email the failed attack was “lame.”
What we know now is the missed opportunities of 2014 had monumental consequences: Had the United States captured or killed Baghdadi and some in his inner circle, ISIS might never have mounted its assault into Iraq, which took place that summer. It might never have captured and killed tens of thousands of Yazidis in Iraq and overrun scores of Christian towns. It might not have set up slave markets inside Mosul where thousands of women were trafficked for years, forced to endure what Kayla Mueller endured.
Four years into a nearly fruitless mission for closure on their daughter’s death, the Muellers learned something completely surprising: Kayla might be still alive.
Early this year they received reports from “credible sources” inside Syria, they say. For several years rumors had made their way to the family, sightings suggesting Kayla may have been in a prison in Mosul, indications she could be in northern Syria with thousands of other ISIS captives as the group’s territory shrank to Deir Ezzor and then to the small town of Baghuz on the Euphrates River. As fighting intensified, such reports came with added urgency and believability.
Based on the new information, the Muellers prepared flyers containing Kayla’s photo and sent them this year into Syria and Turkey during the February offensive by U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces to defeat ISIS at Baghuz.
Distributed in Arabic and English, the leaflets offered a reward for “new and verifiable information about what happened to our daughter.” Syrian and American workers in the region, not named for security reasons, confirmed they received or saw the flyers and made multiple inquiries on the Muellers’ behalf after learning she might be alive.