Widow of ISIS chief charged over US captive's death

WASHINGTON • The widow of the late Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) financial leader Abu Sayyaf has been charged over her alleged role in the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller last year.

Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, a 25-year-old also known as Umm Sayyaf, is accused of conspiring to provide support to violent extremists by forcibly detaining Ms Mueller and other captives in the couple's home, where she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Now in Iraqi custody, Bahar was charged on Monday with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation that resulted in a person's death. If convicted, she faces life in prison.

Bahar acknowledged to the FBI last year that Baghdadi "owned" Ms Mueller, 26 - who was kidnapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2013 - during her captivity at the Sayyaf residence. She described "owning" as equivalent to slavery, federal prosecutors said.

Ms Mueller and other female "captives were at various times handcuffed, held in locked rooms and given orders on a daily basis with respect to their activities, movements and liberty", according to a complaint filed in the US District Court in Virginia.

"While in captivity, Kayla Jean Mueller was sexually abused by Baghdadi, who forced her to have sex with him," it added. "The defendant (Bahar) knew how Ms Mueller was treated by Baghdadi when Ms Mueller was held against her will in the defendant's home."

The complaint also alleged that Bahar told the captives that "she would kill them if they did not listen to her".

Bahar admitted that she had sole responsibility for holding the hostages captive while her husband travelled on ISIS business, and that Baghdadi and other members of the group would stay at the residence at times, according to the complaint.

ISIS fighters claimed that Ms Mueller was killed in a February 2015 coalition air strike that buried her in rubble. US officials say the circumstances of her death remain unclear. Abu Sayyaf was killed in May last year in a rare US commando raid inside war-torn Syria.

Bahar, an Iraqi citizen, was captured during the operation, and US forces also rescued a young woman from the Yazidi minority and seized a stash of firearms, the complaint recalled.

"We fully support the Iraqi prosecution of [Bahar] and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding [Bahar] accountable for her crimes," US Assistant Attorney- General John Carlin said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue justice for Kayla and for all American victims of terrorism."

Ms Mueller's family could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Widow of ISIS chief charged over US captive's death'. Print Edition | Subscribe