Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who died in February while being held by the Islamic State, was repeatedly raped during captivity by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terror group’s top leader, according to counter-terrorism officials and Mueller’s family.
Mueller, 26, from Prescott, Ariz., was taken captive in Syria in August 2013 while leaving a Spanish Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Aleppo.
Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “Caliph” of the Islamic State, brought her “live and in person” to the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian in charge of oil and gas revenue for the group, counter-terrorism officials have told ABC News over the past several months.
The details of Mueller’s treatment were initially reported by several Yazidi girls who were held at the house, including a 14-year-old and her sister who managed to escape last August, The Independent reported. The teen’s version has been corroborated by U.S. officials.
The Yazidi teen eventually made her way to Iraqi Kurdistan, where she talked to U.S. commandos in November 2014, the Associated Press reports. Intelligence agencies corroborated her account and American officials passed it on to Mueller’s parents in June.
Additional information came from Abu Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, who was captured in May by U.S. Special Forces. Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid, which also yielded a treasure trove of intelligence about the terror group.
According to the accounts by the Yazidi girls, many Yazidi women passed through the Sayyaf house on the way to being given as “presents” to Islamic State fighters. They said rape was a “reward” for military victories. The girls also told interrogators that Umm Sayyuaf organized the sex trade.
During lengthy American interrogation in Iraq, Umm Sayyaf confirmed that al-Baghdadi had “owned” Kayla, the Muellers said they were told by American officials. Last week the White House announced that Umm Sayyaf would be prosecuted in Kurdish Iraq and would be “held accountable for her crimes.”
“They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” Carl Mueller, Kayla’s father, told The AP on Friday, which would have been his daughter’s 27th birthday. Her death was reported in February.
Her mother, Marsha Mueller, added, “Kayla did not marry this man. He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”
Afterward, Mueller, who had learned some Arabic while in captivity, would tell her fellow captives — sometimes tearfully — what had happened, the AP reported.
“Kayla tried to protect these young girls,” her mother said. “She was like a mother figure to them.”
When the teenaged Yazidi girl escaped with her sister, she asked Mueller to accompany her, the parents were told, but Kayla refused, worrying that her obvious Western appearance would lead to their capture.
The Islamic State group claimed Mueller was killed in a Jordanian air strike near Raqqah, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria. U.S. officials confirmed the death but not the circumstances.