PRESCOTT, Ariz. (BP) - Kayla Mueller, after whom was named the Oct. 26 operation that reportedly killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being remembered as a Christian who was faithful despite her capture, torture, rape and murder.
Mueller was a member of the Northern Arizona University chapter of United Christian Ministry, marketed as supported by the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ.
In 2014 in IS captivity, Mueller defended her faith in front of an IS executioner who paraded Mueller before other prisoners, ABC News reported at that time, based on comments from former hostages who shared cells with Mueller.
"One of the (IS militants) started to say, 'Oh, this is Kayla, and she has been held all by herself. And she is much stronger than you guys. And she's much smarter. She converted to Islam,'" former hostage Donald Rye Ottosen told ABC in 2016. "And then she was like, 'No, I didn't.'
"I would not have had the guts to say that. I don't think so," ABC quoted Ottosen. "It was very clear that all of us were impressed by the strength that she showed in front of us. That was very clear."
NAU President Rita Cheng told Baptist Press of Mueller's faith.
"Kayla was actively engaged in serving others even in her time as an undergraduate at NAU, and her faith fueled her desire to work with Syrian refugees," Cheng told BP Monday (Oct. 28). "Losing Kayla was a great loss to all those whose lives she touched and the many she was certain to help in the future."
Mueller's death was confirmed in February 2015 when she was 26. IS said Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike against the terrorists, but the U.S. could not confirm that.
Al-Baghdadi is accused of repeatedly raping Mueller and keeping her as an IS slave after terrorists kidnapped her in 2015 during her humanitarian aid work at a hospital in Syria. Al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest and died in a tunnel with three of his children as they fled U.S. forces in Syria Oct. 26, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 27. The tunnel collapsed in the bombing, but Trump said U.S. security officials positively confirmed the terrorist's death.
"[Al-Baghdadi] reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children," Trump said in a press conference. "His body was mutilated by the blast, but test results gave certain and positive identification.
"The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic and dread -- terrified of the American Forces bearing down."
The operation that defeated al-Baghdadi is named in honor of Mueller, a White House factsheet said.
Mueller's parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller, praised Trump after the raid, expressing mixed emotions.
"I still want to know, 'Where is Kayla?' and what truly happened to her and what aren't we being told," The Arizona Republic newspaper quoted Marsha Mueller Oct. 28. "Someone knows, and I'm praying with all my heart that someone in this world will bring us those answers."
Carl Mueller said he still finds it difficult to discuss his daughter's ordeal at al-Baghdadi's hands.
"What this man did to Kayla -- he kidnapped her," the Republic quoted Carl Mueller. "She was held in many prisons. She was held in solitary confinement. She was tortured. She was intimidated. She was ultimately raped by al-Baghdadi himself."
NAU has honored Mueller extensively for her work, inducting her into the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' Hall of Fame and establishing a scholarship in her name.
Mueller, a 2009 NAU graduate, had volunteered with aid groups in India and Israel before she traveled to Turkey, NAU said.
"She had said she wanted to ease the suffering of Syrian refugees who had flocked across the border there, fleeing the violence of their country's ongoing civil war," NAU's communications office told BP.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.