55 aid workers killed in Syria since March 2011

Kayla Mueller knew that she was putting herself in harm’s way when she slipped from to the Turkish-Syrian border into Syria, but the 26-year-old American felt compelled to help. Killed after being held captive by ISIS for more than a year, Mueller’s death followed that of a fellow American aid worker, Peter Kassig, who was beheaded by ISIS militants in November. British aid worker David Haines, was similarly executed in September.

While the threats to aid workers have come into a shocking light with their apparent targeting and brutal killings by ISIS militants, aid workers in Syria faced grave threats even before the Islamist militant group began to gain ground there last year. According to the Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database which tracks such figures, 55 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011. In terms of absolute figures, that’s the highest number of aid worker deaths in any country aside from Afghanistan.

Trevor Hughes, the Director of Risk Management and Global Security at International Relief and Development (IRD) said that while ISIS’ attempts to capture, ransom, or kill foreigners is concerning, the group’s gruesome stunts haven’t had a real impact on his work — especially because many kidnappings are carried out by opportunists. “You have the shifting lines between rival groups, and just because you’re taken by a rival group that isn’t regime-aligned or ISIS-aligned doesn’t mean that they’re not going to see you as a commodity to get sold up which happens a lot in numerous of countries,” he said.

Of course there are real threats, he said, but the threats also affect those who are in desperate need of the food, sanitation kits, winterization materials, infrastructure repair material, and medical supplies that his organization provides to those who are “stuck” in of the conflict.

[Think Progress]

Kayla Mueller American humanitarian worker 1988 – 2015

She had always been the unidentified, lone female American hostage of the Islamic State. For nearly 17 months, while her fellow American captives were beheaded one after another in serial executions posted on YouTube, Kayla Mueller’s name remained a closely guarded secret, whispered among reporters, government officials and hostage negotiators — all fearing that any public mention might imperil her life.

Kayla Mueller humanitarian workerKayla Mueller, who was born in 1988, had a deep desire to help those less fortunate. After graduating from Northern Arizona University, she worked for aid organizations in India and Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to statement from her family.

In 2012, she was drawn to what would soon become the world’s top humanitarian crisis, the Syrian civil war. She moved to Turkey, where many Syrians were seeking refuge, and she settled in a border town assisting Syrian families for the Danish Refugee Council and an aid group called Support to Life. “The common thread of Kayla’s life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others,” her family said in the statement.

The family advisers said there was not any indication that she had been working with an aid group when she went to Aleppo. She had no professional connection to the Doctors Without Borders compound, said Carlos Francisco Cabello, the current head of the Spanish division of Doctors Without Borders’ Syria mission.

“She appeared there with the external technician in a war zone. We didn’t know that she was coming, or otherwise we would not allow her to visit,” Mr. Cabello said, speaking by telephone from Turkey. “U.S. and U.K. citizens at that moment, and even now, were not considered for the Syrian mission for M.S.F. for obvious security reasons,” he said.  “Aleppo at that time and now is a war zone.”

In an interview with The Daily Courier in Arizona, Ms. Mueller described how fulfilled she felt by her work with refugees, which included leading art classes for displaced Syrian children.

“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she said.

[The New York Times]

US humanitarian worker hostage killed in strike on ISIS

On Friday, the Islamic State announced that Kayla Mueller’s, a 26-year-old aid worker from Prescott, Ariz., had been killed in the falling rubble of a building in northern Syria that it said had been struck by bombs from a Jordanian warplane. Top Jordanian officials said the announcement was cynical propaganda.

But the group’s use of Ms. Mueller’s name for the first time prompted her family to throw a spotlight on a hostage ordeal that befell an eager and deeply idealistic young woman, who had ventured into one of the most dangerous parts of Syria — apparently without the backing of an aid organization.

Initially based in southern Turkey, where she had worked for at least two aid organizations assisting Syrian refugees, Ms. Mueller appears to have driven into the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Aug. 3, 2013, alongside a man who has been alternatively described as her Syrian friend or colleague, and by others as either her boyfriend or her fiancé. He had been invited to travel to the city to help fix the Internet connection for a compound run by the Spanish chapter of Doctors Without Borders.

They caught a bus back to Turkey, but never made it, abducted on the road.

On July 12, 2014, the Islamic State announced that it would kill Ms. Mueller within 30 days unless the family provided a ransom of 5 million euros ($5.6 million), or exchanged her for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist educated in America who was convicted of trying to kill American soldiers and F.B.I. agents in Afghanistan in 2008, and is serving a sentence in a Texas jail.

That was shortly before the United States began airstrikes against the Islamic State in concert with European and Arab allies. Soon after, in August, the Islamic State posted the first of its decapitation videos, starting with the beheading of the American James Foley, and then in quick succession the fellow Americans Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig.

After the Islamic State released a video showing the immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot, the Jordanians began their own extensive bombings of Islamic State targets in Syria. It was one of those attacks, the Islamic State said in its message Friday, that killed Ms. Mueller.

Experts on the Middle East said they believed Ms. Mueller was dead, since the Islamic State had no motivation to make such an assertion about a hostage if it were not true.

[The New York Times]