TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – The family of an Arizona woman tortured and killed by the Islamic State group in Syria in 2015 sued the Syrian Arab Republic in federal court Friday, claiming the government of Bashar al-Assad harbored the terrorist organization that kidnapped Kayla Mueller.
Mueller, who was from northern Arizona, was working with two aid groups – Support to Life and the Danish Refugee Council – when she was abducted in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria. She had previously worked with refugees in Israel and India, the lawsuit says.
She gave a speech, quoted in the lawsuit, at her local Kiwanis Club in the months before she was kidnapped.
“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal, something we just accept … It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done,” she said.
The U.S. government has listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979, including the Islamic State group and its precursors, according to the lawsuit.
Emerging through a series of mergers with other terror groups, the Islamic State group has its roots in disagreements with al-Qaeda, the largest of several terror groups operating in Iraq in the mid 2000s. After losing support from the larger group, several smaller groups merged to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, the group that eventually declared an Islamic State in Iraq in 2006, the lawsuit says.
More mergers led to the creation in early 2013 of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group that abducted and killed Mueller.
The Assad regime has helped all of these groups, including releasing and arming hundreds of prisoners in 2011, many of whom went on to become today’s Islamic State group leaders. These men formed a core group of Islamic leaders whom Assad used to infiltrate opposition groups backed by the U.S., the lawsuit says.
“Assad secretly cooperated with Daesh to destroy other opposition groups all the while declaring war against ‘terrorists,’ and feigning meaningful participation in the struggle against Daesh, and similar groups such as Al Qaeda,” the lawsuit says. “When the Arab Spring came to Syria in January 2011, the Assad regime came to rely on Daesh for its very existence.”
By 2013, Assad’s government was supporting the Islamic State group by buying oil from wells seized from him by the group in eastern Syria. Assad continues to buy about $1 million worth of oil daily from the terror group, the lawsuit says.
On Aug. 3, 2013, Kayla Mueller went into Aleppo, Syria from Turkey with Omar Alkhani, a contractor working with Doctors Without Borders who was going to repair an internet connection at a hospital. They spent the night, and then the next day Mueller, Alkhani, a Doctors Without Borders employee and a driver were stopped and pulled from their car on the way to the bus station.
Over the next 18 months, Mueller was imprisoned, raped and tortured, mostly being held by Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State group’s minister for oil and gas. She was shuttled around to various homes with other young women. During this time, Sayyaf, who was later captured, told U.S. investigators that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “owned” her and repeatedly raped her, the lawsuit says.
On Feb. 7, 2015, Daesh emailed Mueller’s parents to tell them she was dead.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Mueller’s parents, Richard and Marsha Mueller, and her brother, Eric Mueller. Their lead attorney did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday evening.
The family is asking for $10 million each for each count in the lawsuit, which includes wrongful death, battery, assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy and aiding and abetting, plus $10 million each for survival damages and unspecified punitive damages.