- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

President Obama vowed retribution Tuesday against the Islamic State following the death of yet another American hostage, aid worker Kayla Mueller, at the hands of the terrorist group.

The death of Miss Mueller, 26, who had been missing since the summer of 2013, was confirmed both by her family and Obama administration officials. The exact circumstances of her death aren’t yet clear, and the White House said the Syria-based Islamic State’s claims that she was killed by a Jordanian airstrike can’t be confirmed. White House officials also said Tuesday that another American is being held captive somewhere in the Middle East, but declined to provide any information on the hostage’s identity or status.

The grim news comes as the U.S. and its allies ramp up military offensives against the jihadi movement that made major gains across the border in Iraq last year. The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday resumed airstrikes against the organization, a move that both shows support for the U.S.-led effort to defeat the group and also a strong solidarity with Jordan, which saw one of its military pilots burned alive this month by terrorist fighters.

As Mr. Obama tries to rally international support to battle the Islamic State and seeks a formal authorization for the use of military force from Congress, he was forced to again offer condolences to an American family who saw their innocent loved one die in terrorist captivity.

“She has been taken from us, but her legacy endures, inspiring all those who fight, each in their own way, for what is just and what is decent,” Mr. Obama said. “No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death.”

In an interview Tuesday with the website Buzzfeed, Mr. Obama reiterated his opposition to negotiating with terrorist groups for U.S. hostages, adding that telling families like the Muellers that the U.S. will not pay ransom for the release of their loved ones is “as tough as anything I do.”

A native of Prescott, Arizona, Miss Mueller is the fourth U.S. citizen to die after being taken hostage by the Islamic State. The group also executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig.

In each of those cases, the hostage was brutally beheaded on camera by Islamic State militants, with the footage used as a warning to the West that more casualties are inevitable.

But Miss Mueller’s case was very different.

Islamic State forces claimed that she died sometime over the weekend after Jordan began a new round of bombing in retaliation for the burning death of its pilot. The strikes targeted an Islamic State weapons depot, and the terrorist group contended that Miss Mueller was being held there and died as a result of the bombing.

The White House and the Pentagon said Wednesday they were unable to determine conclusively how, or exactly when, she died. Jordan has dismissed the Islamic State’s version of events, noting that Islamic State terrorists had continued to bargain for the Jordanian pilot’s release long after he had already been killed.

Miss Mueller’s family was informed over the weekend that their daughter had been killed, U.S. officials say.

“We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life,” her parents, Carl and Marsha, said in a statement. “Kayla was a compassionate and devoted humanitarian. She dedicated the whole of her young life to helping those in need of freedom, justice and peace.”

Miss Mueller’s minister and tearful friends and relatives met with reporters in her Arizona hometown Tuesday afternoon to recall a young woman with a boundless desire to help those in need and a strong sense of justice and fairness.

Mr. Obama over the past several days spoke with Miss Mueller’s parents, the White House said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also expressed condolences to the Mueller family. During a speech on the Senate floor, he read passages from letters and videos in which Miss Mueller explained she felt compelled to travel to Syria and help civilians caught up in a long, bloody civil war.

Kayla devoted her young life to helping people in need around the world, to healing the sick and bringing light to some of the darkest and most desperate places on Earth. She will never be forgotten,” Mr. McCain said.

Meanwhile, the White House acknowledged Tuesday that at least one more American is being held hostage somewhere in the Middle East.

Austin Tice, a Houston journalist, disappeared in August 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war. His family has said it does not believe he is being held by the Islamic State or the Syrian government, according to The Associated Press.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not name Mr. Tice as the hostage.

“There is at least one other hostage that is being held in the region,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We are aware — we have avoided discussing the individual cases of Americans being held hostage — but we are aware of one other American hostage being held in the region.”

⦁ This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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