Nation & World

McCain: Why wasn’t Umm Sayyaf charged in Kayla Mueller death?

Chairman Sen. John McCain
Chairman Sen. John McCain Associated Press

Sen. John McCain on Thursday challenged senior Obama administration officials over the government’s decision to hand an Islamic State detainee to Kurdish officials in Iraq instead of bringing her to the United States for trial.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, McCain expressed displeasure with the decision announced last week by the Pentagon and the White House to transfer the woman to Iraqi Kurdish authorities.

“Umm Sayyaf was clearly involved at the top levels of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is in a state of hostilities,” McCain wrote.

Using a common acronym for the Islamic State, McCain added: “Indeed, the White House has said that she was `complicit' in the illegal captivity of Kayla Mueller, the U.S. citizen and aid worker who was abducted and held by ISIL in Syria until her tragic death earlier this year.”

McCain requested “a detailed explanation in writing for why Umm Sayyaf was not extradited to the United States to stand trial.”

Umm Sayyaf is the nom de guerre of the wife of an Islamic State financial kingpin killed by U.S. Delta Force commandos May 15 during a raid and gunfight in eastern Syria. She was captured in the raid and had been held since then by U.S. forces in Iraq. Her given name is Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim.

The Defense Department said it would not discuss McCain’s letter with journalists.

The Justice Department did not reply to a request for comment.

Mueller, who’d been held captive for 18 months after being kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria, in August 2013 was a native of Prescott, Ariz. McCain is an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In an unusual statement, the Islamic State announced Feb. 6 that Mueller had died during a Jordanian bombing raid targeting the group in northern Syria. The United States has not confirmed that claim.

News reports, citing unnamed intelligence officials, have reported that Mueller had been held at least part of the time during her captivity by Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State official killed in the May Delta Force raid.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest made reference to the reports when he addressed questions about Umm Sayyaf last week.

“We do suspect that Umm Sayyaf was a member of ISIL and played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and we do believe that she and her husband are complicit in the captivity of a U.S. citizen, Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

Pressed on why the United States had not extradited Umm Sayyaf, Earnest said she is an Iraqi citizen and that her transfer had been “conducted in full coordination with the government of Iraq.”