ABC News is airing a news story about Kayla Mueller, an American humanitarian worker taken hostage by ISIS in Syria who spent 18 months in captivity before she died. The special program is called “The Girl Left Behind” and airs tonight (Friday, August 26).
The reason for the title of the documentary is nothing short of heartbreaking. While a handful of other hostages were released, it appears the negotiations for Mueller’s release were bungled (something the documentary hints at addressing). And while Mueller was one of the first Western hostages ISIS claimed when they hit the world scene a few years ago, this is not why we are following her harrowing story. By all accounts, Mueller was a source of strength and support to those who were held captive with her, and she appears not to have wavered in her faith in Jesus during her long captivity.
Fellow hostage, Frida Saide, said that Mueller had “a strong faith that gave her a lot of strength” and “she was always concerned for other prisoners. She never stopped being concerned for the Syrian population living through just horrible things in this war and still are. She never stopped caring for others.”
Mueller was captured August 4, 2013, in Aleppo, Syria. She had been working across the border in Turkey since December 2012 helping Syrian refugees in Antakya. When she was taken captive, Mueller had been working with a contractor for Doctors Without Borders to install communications equipment at a hospital in Aleppo. On their way to the bus station the next day to return to Turkey, Mueller and her colleagues were taken captive.
According to an article on ABC News, Mueller would then be shuffled around to different “ad hoc” ISIS detention centers, including an abandoned oil refinery at one point, over the course of the next 18 months.
What is striking about fellow hostages’ accounts of Mueller is that she clearly allowed her faith to sustain her under unimaginable abuse and torture. Fellow hostage Daniel Rye Ottosen of Denmark recalls Mueller standing up to her captors who were trying to intimidate another prisoner. Her captors claimed she had converted to Islam, but Mueller denied it. “No, I didn’t,” she said, according to Ottosen. “I would not have had the guts to say that,” Ottosen says.
At one point, Mueller was handed over to Abu Sayyaf, an oil and gas emir for ISIS. Sayyaf kept Mueller and about six Yazidi girls as sex slaves for the ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A couple of the Yazidi girls escaped, something they attribute in large part to Mueller’s willingness to stay in captivity. As one of the Yazidi girls explains (asked to be called “Julia”), “I told Kayla, ‘We want to escape,’ and I asked her to come with us. She told me, ‘No, because I am American. If I escape with you, they will do everything to find us again.’” Mueller chose to stay behind to give the girls a better chance at freedom.
Julia said Mueller prayed for them to escape and survive. “I will never forget this sacrifice. She was very good to us. I will never forget.”
The following footage includes the proof of life video sent to Mueller’s parents during the negotiations for her release. While it’s clear to see Mueller was in distress, her parents say they felt her eyes spoke of the strength she possessed.