Kayla Mueller abduction: MSF withheld key information from us, parents say

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The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) withheld vital information from the family of the Islamic State hostage Kayla Mueller for almost two months, her parents said in an interview broadcast on Friday.

They’re a fabulous organization. They do wonderful work, Carl Mueller, the aid worker’s father, said in an ABC 20/20 documentary. But somewhere in a boardroom they decided to leave our daughter there to be tortured and raped.

Mueller’s parents say MSF, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders, withheld for almost two months an email address their daughter’s captors had asked be given to her parents in order for negotiations to begin.

Kayla Mueller, who was not an MSF employee, is one of four Americans to have been abducted by Isis in Syria. She was captured in August 2013, before the group had risen to global prominence, having travelled to Aleppo with her boyfriend, Syrian photographer Omar Alkhani, to help fix a satellite at an MSF hospital. The job took longer than expected and the two stayed overnight. The next day, they were abducted while driving in an MSF vehicle to a bus stop to return to southern Turkey, where Mueller was based.

After a failed rescue attempt on the weekend of 4 July 2014, and botched negotiations, Mueller died in captivity. Questions remain about the cause of her death: Isis says she was killed in a coalition airstrike, which the US denies.

The Muellers discussed their daughter’s 18 months in captivity in an hour-long documentary. On Wednesday, in anticipation of the release of the program, MSF released a statement that explained its version of events. The group has maintained it would never have permitted Mueller to come to Aleppo had it known of her intentions. It had already banned some foreign workers from operating in Syria, as kidnappings had become rife.

MSF’s security policy therefore forbid people from certain countries, including the US, from working at or even visiting the hospital, the organization said.

Five MSF workers were taken hostage in northern Syria after Mueller’s abduction. Two of them, Frida Saide and Patricia Chavez, told ABC they were held with Mueller in a cell that was guarded by the notorious British Isis fighters that other hostages named the Beatles.

The women, who had not spoken out before, described Mueller as strong and said that she would exchange letters with another American hostage, Steven Sotloff. The hostages created a makeshift game of Trivial Pursuit, they said. In September 2014, Sotloff was beheaded.

Mueller’s family said she was tortured from the start of her captivity, her fingernails being ripped out and her head shaved. Later, they said, she was forced into marriage with Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who repeatedly raped her.

MSF negotiated the release of Mueller’s cellmates, who managed to smuggle out a letter from Mueller addressed to her parents. They were also instructed by the captors to pass along an email address to the family, to begin negotiations for her release. MSF said it shared the letter with Mueller’s family but withheld the email address out of fear for the safety of the remaining hostages.

The MSF statement said: The captors had also given the women a letter that they wanted delivered to Kayla’s parents, but Kayla herself asked the women not to pass along this other letter.

After MSF was able to negotiate the release of its remaining staff about six weeks later, the family learned of the email address.

We regret the fact that Marsha Mueller had to reach out to us first before we did so, MSF said in its statement. We should have reached out to the family first, and we have apologized to the Muellers for that.

The ABC documentary included audio of a tense telephone exchange between the Muellers and MSF’s director in Syria at the time, who was not named.

You’ll send that email right away after we hang up? said an emotional Carl Mueller.

We prefer to do it tomorrow, if that’s OK? the director responded.

No, that’s not OK … every day to us is a critical time, Mueller said. Every hour.

After a pause, the director replied: OK. Yes.

In its statement, MSF said that if the captors received any indication that staff members had smuggled out a letter, it would have jeopardized the lives of those who remained in captivity. The group also said negotiating hostage release for non-staff members could endanger its work in the future.

If MSF were generally considered by would-be abductors to be a negotiator of release for non-MSF staff, there is no doubt that this would increase the risk levels in many locations, the statement said.

The documentary also reiterated the Mueller family’s criticism of the way in which the Obama administration has handled kidnappings. The Muellers said Barack Obama had refused to meet them until after the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, in August 2014.

In the meeting, Carl Mueller said, Obama was cold. He added that the president had pledged to make a donation to a foundation set up in Kayla’s honor. Seventeen months later, that donation has not been received, the family said.

In a press briefing on Friday, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest did not provide reasons for the delay. He said the Obamas would be making a donation to the foundation.

I would anticipate that they [the Obamas] would make a financial contribution to continue supporting it, he said.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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