Ex-hostages say American stayed brave amid torture in Syria

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Former hostages say an Arizona woman slain by Islamic State militants remained steadfast in her Christian faith and stood up to her captors despite being tortured, raped and verbally abused.

Four ex-hostages who had shared cells with Kayla Mueller spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with ABC News set to air Friday.

Frida Saide of Sweden and Patricia Chavez of Peru and Belgium were among the women held with the 26-year-old Mueller for six weeks at an abandoned oil refinery in Syria in 2014. They said guards targeted Mueller more than other prisoners.

"They would scream at her, and they would, you know, blame her for everything that America has done in the world," Saide said.

Mueller and her boyfriend were captured after both left a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo. Omar Alkhani was released 20 days later after being beaten and interrogated.

Other hostages said Mueller of Prescott, Arizona, kept a positive outlook while sharing a 12-by-12 room with brick walls and a single light bulb where she could only tell if it was daytime if a bit of light appeared through a small vent.

Mueller sometimes entertained Saide and Chavez by doing impressions of the guards. Mueller also told them how she briefly cared for a 14-year-old Shiite girl and a woman while isolated for six months.

"She was amazing. She was a really strong girl," Chavez said.

Prisoners say Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John, led three other guards who paraded Mueller around the refinery in March 2014. One hostage, Daniel Rye Ottosen, a Danish freelance photographer, recalled Mueller daring to contradict a guard who said she had converted to Islam.

Mueller was held captive for 18 months. Her family confirmed her death in February 2015.

Saide and Chavez said they managed to smuggle out three letters written by Mueller. One of the contacts she listed on the back of a letter was Kathleen Day, a campus minister at Northern Arizona University, where Mueller studied.

Day said the willingness to transport Mueller's letters was extraordinary because the women could have been killed.

"These young women and hostages were all alone," Day told The Associated Press. "They had no power. They had no voice. They had no money yet they stayed steady in their compassion and outreach to others."

Parents Carl and Marsha Mueller criticized President Barack Obama for not honoring a pledge to donate to Kayla's Hands, a foundation created to honor her commitment to serving the needy.

Carl Mueller told ABC News that Obama had promised during a private meeting in 2015 to make a contribution. Mueller also accused the Obama administration of failing to help secure his daughter's release.

"The president could have been a hero, but he chose not to," Mueller said.

Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman for the Muellers, told the AP the couple would not comment further.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he would not discuss private presidential conversations but he expects Obama will contribute to the foundation in the future.

"It certainly is consistent with the kind of charity organization that the president and the first lady have supported in the past," Earnest said.

He said it's "entirely understandable" for the Muellers to feel pain and grief about their daughter not being saved from the terror group.


AP writers Terry Tang in Phoenix and Josh Lederman in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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