Federal prosecutors filed charges Monday against an Iraqi woman accused of taking hostage an American aid worker who was killed last year in Syria.
The Iraqi woman, known as Umm Sayyaf or Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, was captured in May in a U.S. commando raid in eastern Syria. Her husband, a senior Islamic State terrorist, was killed in the assault.
Sayyaf was charged with conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Justice Department officials and federal prosecutors had been debating charges in the case for months.
Authorities believe that Sayyaf played a role in the imprisonment of Kayla Mueller, 26, an American woman from Prescott, Ariz., who was repeatedly abused and raped by the leader of the Islamic State. Mueller, who was abducted in 2013 after leaving a hospital in Syria, had traveled to the region to help refugees trying to escape civil war.
After Sayyaf’s capture, she was taken to a U.S. air base near the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, where the FBI-led High-Value Interrogation Group questioned her for intelligence purposes. Then FBI agents from the Washington Field Office, known as a clean team, interviewed her repeatedly, working to build a criminal case against her for a future prosecution in federal court.
According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent William H. Heaney, Sayyaf admitted that she and her husband were responsible for maintaining custody of Mueller and other captives, and that she thought Mueller was being held for ransom or some type of prisoner exchange. Sayaff also admitted, according to the affidavit, that her home was used to store large amounts of cash that the Islamic State had made through its oil and gas businesses, and that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, and other terrorists sometimes stayed there. It also apparently was used to store firearms, according to the affidavit.
The Iraqis took custody of Sayyaf in August, and it is unlikely she will ever make her way back to the U.S. Still, federal prosecutors and FBI agents felt charges in the case might bring some measure of comfort to Mueller’s family, officials said.
There also were concerns, officials said, that the Kurds could eventually release Sayyaf in a prisoner exchange. Charges allow the FBI to arrrest her should that happen.
The Islamic State claimed Mueller was killed in February after a Jordanian fighter plane dropped a bomb on her. The terrorist group sent photographs of the dead woman to her family. U.S. intelligence officials have said they still do not know how she died.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Matt Zapotosky and Adam Goldman