No proof yet of Islamic State claims about female hostage’s death

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Questions swirled today after Islamic State militants claimed an American aid worker is now a casualty of war. The militants said the hostage, Kayla Jean Mueller, died when Jordanian planes bombed this building in their stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. Jordan had stepped up the airstrikes after one of its pilots was burned alive.

    Amman dismissed the Islamic State claim, and U.S. officials, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, said they cannot confirm it.

  • SUSAN RICE, National Security Adviser:

    We're obviously very concerned about the reports that have come in, in recent hours. We do not, at the present, have any evidence to corroborate ISIL's claims, but obviously we will keep reviewing the information at hand.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We examine what's known and not at this time with Shane Harris. He's senior intelligence and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast.

    Shane Harris, welcome.

    First of all, who was Kayla Mueller and what was she doing in Syria?

  • SHANE HARRIS, The Daily Beast:

    Well, Kayla is 26. She was an aid worker from Prescott, Arizona, who had spent much of her life actually after she graduated from college working in that region and particularly along the border of Turkey and Syria to work with refugees who had been displaced by the civil war and was especially passionate about working with children.

    She had tried to work with children in camps who had lost their homes. She had done art therapy and other kind of activities with them was really drawn to the plight of these refugees, and ultimately did go into Syria, where she was working at a hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders, and it was that time in 2013 that she was kidnapped by ISIS.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is there any question that it was ISIS, the Islamic State, that kidnapped her? Has there been evidence since she was taken?

  • SHANE HARRIS:

    There was evidence.

    There has been no question that it was ISIS. And, in fact, last year, Kayla's family received what is known as proof of life from her kidnappers, evidence that she was in fact alive, at least at that time. They had demanded a ransom payment as well. So ISIS had identified itself as her captors, but there's no known communication since that time last year between the family or U.S. officials and ISIS.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, how recently then was she known to be alive?

  • SHANE HARRIS:

    Well, at least the confirmation of that had come as recently as last spring, which is quite some time ago.

    There had been no evidence though to suggest that she had been killed. There had been speculation, there had been rumors about the status of her, but frankly there's often a lot of rumors about the status of American hostages that are held over there. What was notable in Kayla's case is that she had not appeared in any of the videos that ISIS has been putting out since last summer, these grisly beheading videos that we have become so familiar with.

    So there had been really no indication about whether she was dead or alive.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, today's claim from Islamic State that she died in a Jordanian air attack on this building in Raqqa, where's the evidence that backs that up?

  • SHANE HARRIS:

    There really is no evidence. And I think we should treat it skeptically. And I think U.S. officials are, for the moment right now, generally — we talked about proof of life. ISIS usually provides proof of death when these hostages are killed.

    There's been no photographic evidence that she's been killed, only a claim from ISIS, which is sort of hard to believe if you look at the evidence they have presented so far. There were airstrikes in the area, possibly. We have not confirmed how many of them there were. There have been questions about how ISIS could have identified that it was a Jordanian aircraft that bombed this facility.

    The Jordanians say the picture that was shown is actually a weapons a warehouse that was used by ISIS. So there's some questions about why she would be held there. But beyond releasing some of her biographical details, like a phone number and an address that was associated with her, ISIS just hasn't put forward any evidence.

    And they do have a pattern of lying about the time that hostages were killed and using this information to manipulate emotions and to — for their own P.R. advantage. So we really just don't have any evidence yet that she is dead. And ISIS has manipulated people with this information in the past.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it sounds like we are left to wait until there is some evidence. Shane Harris with The Daily Beast, we thank you.

  • SHANE HARRIS:

    My pleasure.

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