WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility
that the Islamic State militant leader killed Friday was the captor of American
hostage Kayla Mueller for a time.
Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee,
confirmed the line of inquiry at a breakfast with reporters Tuesday, but
declined further comment. ABC News first reported that U.S. officials believe
Mueller, whose death was announced in February, spent time in the custody of the
Tunisian Islamic State finance man known as Abu Sayyaf.
A U.S. official on Tuesday said Sayyaf’s real name was Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi
Murad was killed Friday during a rare ground operation in Islamic State-held
territory in Syria by Delta Force operators. His wife, known as Umm Sayyaf, was
taken into custody and is being interrogated, U.S. officials say. She is
cooperative and providing “a trove” of intelligence, said a Congressional
official briefed on the matter.
Intelligence analysts are also sifting through reams of electronic data seized
at the site, the official said.
Murad had a number of aliases, the U.S. official said, but officials believe
that Murad is his real name. Murad is believed to be the Islamic State’s head of
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized
to discuss the matter publicly.
The Islamic State group said Mueller was killed in a Jordanian air strike, but
U.S. officials have cast doubt on that assertion. Mueller and her Syrian
boyfriend were taken hostage in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without
Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria. The boyfriend was later released.
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan declined to address the issue.
“We are currently debriefing the detainee to obtain intelligence about ISIL
operations,” she said. “We are also working to determine any information she
may have regarding hostages — including American citizens who were held by
A U.S. official also provided more details on the Friday night raid.
The commandos who flew by Black Hawk and V-22 Osprey aircraft into Syria under
cover of darkness quickly met resistance on the ground. They blew a hole in the
building where Murad was believed to be staying and as they ran into the
building and up the stairs, they encountered more insurgents. The official said
that at that point the U.S. forces battled in close quarters combat, including
some hand-to-hand fighting.
The goal of the mission, which had undergone months of planning, was to take
Murad and his wife alive, in the hopes that he would provide intelligence on the
group’s operations, finances and information on who they do business with and
potentially on their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Another part of the plan was
to free an 18-year-old girl who is a Yazidi and was believed to have been kept
as a slave by the Islamic State leader and his wife.
The girl was found and freed by the commandos and is expected to be returned to
her family after she is debriefed by the U.S.
A team from U.S. intelligence agencies is poring over the laptops, cellphones,
computer drives and other data recovered at the site.