Who Was Kayla Mueller? Baghdadi Operation Named After Aid Worker Who Was Captured and Killed by ISIS

The U.S. military operation that led to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State (ISIS) leader, has been named Kayla Mueller, after a deceased female aid worker who was captured and tortured by ISIS, according to White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien on Sunday.

Mueller, a former humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Arizona, was kidnapped by the terrorist organization in August 2013 after she travelled from Turkey to Aleppo, a city in Syria, to visit a local hospital operated by Médecines Sans Frontières, an international aid group. She was imprisoned by ISIS during her trip and subsequently tortured and sexually abused by Baghdadi. Her death in ISIS custody was confirmed in early 2015, and her body has still not be recovered.

The terrorist group said that she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike on ISIS positions in Raqqa, a Syrian city located on the northeast bank of the Euphrates River. Both the Jordan government and the White House said their claims were unfounded. Mueller was 26 years old at the time of her death.

"What this man did to Kayla—he kidnapped her," Kayla's father Carl Mueller told the Arizona Republic on Sunday after news of Baghdadi's death. "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 added: "He either killed her or he was complicit in her murder. I'll let people who read this article make up their own mind how a parent should feel."

Before her capture, Mueller had been assisting Syrian refugees in southern Turkey since 2012. Though she worked for Support to Life, an international aid agency, her trip to Aleppo was reportedly not work-related.

Mueller arrived in Syria a day before her disappearance with a Syrian man who was said to have been her boyfriend. He had been contracted to work on the Internet connection at the international charity. When he arrived with Mueller, the charity workers were flustered due to Syria's no-go zone policy for international aid employees. As they attempted to head back to Turkey, their car was ambushed. Mueller and her Syrian friend were then abducted. The man was later freed.

According to ABC News, Mueller, who was a Christian, never surrendered hope and defended her faith during her capture. Four former ISIS hostages who shared cells with Mueller told 20/20 that her courage and heroism inspired them.

In late 2015, Northern Arizona University, where Mueller had obtained a bachelor degree in Political science, posthumously inducted her into their Social and Behavioral Sciences Hall of Fame. Earlier that year, Time Magazine's Charlotte Alter praised Mueller as a Millennial role model. "Mueller represented the best qualities of the millennial generation–our idealism, our optimism, and our love of our families–without the troublesome ones," Alter said.

After her death, Mueller's family shared a handwritten letter with the press that she had written in the spring of 2014, during her capture. "I have been shown in darkness, light [and I] have learned that even in prison, one can be free," she wrote. "I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it."

She added: "I am not breaking down [and] I will not give in no matter how long it takes. I wrote a song some months ago that says, "The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left..."

Robert O'Brien
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (L) listens as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin brief members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. O'Brien on Sunday revealed that the U.S. military operation that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been named after Kayla Mueller. Alex Wong/Getty