Note: This article has been updated to note that Foreign Policy has confirmed the US-led coalition launched airstrikes in Raqqa earlier today.
A statement attributed to the Islamic State claims that an American woman who was being held hostage, Kayla Jean Mueller, was killed during Jordanian airstrikes earlier today. The statement contains a photo set showing a building that was allegedly struck by Jordanian bombers.
The claim could not be independently verified and its overall veracity is questionable.
One photo published by the group can be seen above and others at the end of this article. The web page containing the announcement also purports to publish Mueller’s address in Arizona, her telephone number and email address.
Several elements of the statement and the photos immediately draw into question the claimed circumstances surrounding Mueller’s alleged death.
The Islamic State set off an international controversy when its fighters burned a Jordanian pilot alive. Conveniently, the group now claims that Jordan’s bombers killed an American hostage. It is not clear how the Islamic State knows the bombers that supposedly hit this area were Jordanian, as opposed to other coalition aircraft.
Moreover, the statement says that Mueller was killed by the “fire” caused by the bombings. This is, again, convenient given the manner in which Mu’adh Yusuf al Kasasibah was executed. It is an attempt to draw moral equivalency between Jordan’s attacks on the Islamic State, and the means by which the Islamic State killed a Jordanian pilot. In fact, the group’s supporters have been aggressively making “an eye for an eye” justifications on social media since the grotesque execution video was first aired.
The Islamic State says that Mueller was killed during Friday prayers in the city of Raqqa, which serves as the de facto seat of its “caliphate.” The implication is that the Jordanians were bombing during a holy time for Muslims.
The statement also alleges that no jihadists were killed, only Mueller, despite “continuous raids” on the location for more than one hour. This would be an incredibly inefficient use of Jordan’s airpower, if true, as its bombers are surely targeting locations that can do the most damage to the Islamic State’s positions. And it is not clear how the building shown in the photos could still be standing at all, even with significant damage, if the bombers really struck this precise location for more than one hour.
As of this writing, the coalition had not yet announced any airstrikes in Raqqa today. The latest statement from CENTCOM says that, from 8 am on Feb. 5 to 8 am Feb. 6 (local time), the coalition conducted ten airstrikes. Nine of the airstrikes took place near Kobani, targeting “nine [Islamic State] tactical units” and destroying two of the organization’s “fighting positions.” The tenth airstrike hit “multiple storage and staging facilities” near Al Hasakah.
Citing a CENTCOM official, however, Foreign Policy subsequently confirmed that the US-led “coalition conducted multiple airstrikes Friday in the Raqqa area against Islamic State targets” and the strikes “involved both US and coalition planes.”
Jordan did launch airstrikes in Iraq and Syria today. Citing Jordanian state television, CNN reports that the Jordanian armed forces claimed to have hit Islamic State “training centers, arms and ammunition depots.”
While it is certainly possible Mueller has been killed, the Islamic State’s description of how she was allegedly killed could very well be a propaganda ploy. Specific details in the Islamic State’s message, such as no other deaths caused by the coalition’s bombings in Raqqa, do not ring true.
Other photos released by the Islamic State: