The Islamic State claimed Friday —- without providing any video or photographic evidence — that a female American hostage was killed during an airstrike by Jordanian jets in Syria. Officials in Washington and Jordan were quick to say they had not seen any evidence to support the claims.
SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based group that monitors terrorist activity online, said the claim was made in a tweet from an ISIL-linked group. The tweet also carried a photo of the alleged bombing site.
“The failed Jordanian aircraft killed an American female hostage,” said the message. “No mujahid (fighter) was injured in the bombardment, and all praise is due to Allah.”
The message identified the woman as 26-year-old American aid worker Kayla Jean Mueller of Prescott, Ariz. There was no independent confirmation that a hostage was killed.
In a statement, Mueller’s family called on the media to “cautiously report” on her background and work and “limit speculation on her situation and consider the implications for her security before publishing.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the White House is “deeply concerned” by the reports but has not seen evidence to support the claims. The U.S. Central Command also said it hadn’t seen evidence.
On Sunday, President Obama told NBC’s Today Show that the U.S. was “deploying all the assets” to find her.
Jordan’s military has a high level of confidence that the hostage was not killed by a Jordanian airstrike, a Jordanian government official told USA TODAY. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, did not elaborate on how the military drew that conclusion.
The official also said militants had been deceptive in the past when they claimed Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh was still alive even though he had been killed nearly a month earlier.
“They tried to cause problems internally in Jordan and haven’t succeeded,” Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said, according to CNN. “They are now trying to drive a wedge between the coalition with this latest low PR stunt.”
Mueller’s identity had not been previously released by American officials or her family out of fear for her safety. She is the last known remaining American hostage held by the group. Last year, the Islamic State beheaded three Americans: journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig.
Mueller had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees when she was taken captive in August 2013, by ISIL in the Syrian city of Aleppo while leaving a Spanish “Doctors without Borders” hospital, her family said.
In a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her hometown newspaper, the Northern Arizona University graduate said 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 realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”
The Islamic State claimed the airstrike occurred in the outskirts of Raqqa, the militant stronghold in northern Syria, as residents were gathering for Friday noon prayers. It said the assault continued at the same location for more than an hour and that the hostage died when a building collapsed.
Jordan has carried out two days of strikes in an Islamic State-controlled area in retaliation for the death of al-Kaseasbeh, whose plane went down in an area controlled by the militants in December. The Jordanian military has called the mission “Operation Martyr Muath” in honor of the pilot.
The Islamic State released a video of al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive earlier this week, but Jordanian TV reported the killing took place Jan. 3, raising questions about negotiations for the pilot’s freedom. The Islamic State had been trying to free an Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for al-Kaseasbeh. Jordan said it would agree to the exchange but wanted proof the pilot was alive.
Several hours after the Islamic State video was released, al-Rishawi and another al-Qaeda-linked prisoner were executed in Jordan.