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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

Monday, February 8, 2016

Wife of Dead ISIL Leader Charged in Death of Kayla Jean Mueller

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, aka Umm Sayyaf, 25, an Iraqi citizen and wife of Abu Sayyaf, a senior leader within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) until his death last year, was charged by criminal complaint today for her role in a conspiracy that resulted in the death of American citizen Kayla Jean Mueller in February 2015.

“Kayla Mueller’s kidnapping and death is a tragic reminder of the dangers that ISIL poses to Americans,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We will continue to work alongside the FBI to investigate this case and remain steadfast in our pursuit of justice for the Mueller family.”  

“The charges filed today allege that Umm Sayyaf and others conspired to provide material support to ISIL and that this conspiracy resulted in the death of Kayla Jean Mueller,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “Sayyaf is currently in Iraqi custody for her terrorism-related activities.  We fully support the Iraqi prosecution of Sayyaf and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding Sayyaf accountable for her crimes.  At the same time, these charges reflect that the U.S. justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad.  We will continue to pursue justice for Kayla and for all American victims of terrorism.”

“The FBI continues to work tirelessly alongside our partners to hold accountable those who are responsible for the kidnapping and death of Kayla Mueller,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  “This criminal complaint is another step toward achieving justice in the case.  We will always be relentless in our efforts to identify, locate, and arrest those who are responsible for the kidnappings and murders of American citizens.”

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, in August 2013, on their second full day in northern Syria, Mueller and Individual #1 were kidnapped at gunpoint by masked ISIL soldiers.  Mueller remained a hostage of ISIL until her death on or about Feb. 7, 2015.

According to the affidavit, in August 2014, Individual #2 and Individual #3, two young Kurdish women of Yazidi heritage, were forcibly kidnapped by ISIL from their village in northern Iraq.  After their capture, Individual #2 and Individual #3 were taken to a prison in Syria maintained by ISIL where they were held with Mueller.

According to the affidavit, on or about Sept. 24, 2014, Mueller, Individual #2 and Individual #3 were transferred from the ISIL prison to the custody of Abu and Umm Sayyaf.  Abu Sayyaf, who held a senior leadership position within ISIL and reported directly to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was ISIL’s minister of oil and gas, and was previously responsible for ISIL’s media program.  The Sayyaf’s maintained several residences where they forcibly held Mueller, Individual #2, and Individual #3, along with other female captives.  The captives were at various times handcuffed, held in locked rooms, and Mueller was sexually abused by Baghdadi, who forced her to have sex with him. Umm Sayyaf knew how Mueller was treated by Baghdadi when Mueller was held against her will in Sayyaf’s home.

The Sayyaf residences featured ISIL flags and other ISIL-branded items, and often had numerous firearms open and visible to captives.  For a period of time, a large supply of weapons was maintained in a room of one of the residences for use by ISIL fighters.

According to the affidavit, the Sayyaf’s held young women who were sold or traded to ISIL men, and the women were characterized as being “owned” by the ISIL men who acquired them.  While Mueller, Individual #2, and Individual #3 were held captive by the Sayyaf’s, Umm Sayyaf threatened the women, telling them she would kill them if they did not listen to her.

According to the affidavit, on or about May 15, 2015, the U.S. military conducted an operation targeting one of the Sayyaf residences.  During the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged with U.S. military forces, and Umm Sayyaf was captured.  Firearms stored at the residence at the time of the operation were seized and are currently in the custody of the FBI.

According to the affidavit, beginning on or about June 17, 2015, Umm Sayyaf was interviewed by FBI agents and admitted that her family belonged to the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorist organization, the predecessor group to ISIL, and remained members of the terrorist organization when its name changed to ISIL.  The defendant admitted to holding Mueller, Individual #2, Individual #3, and others hostage on behalf of ISIL.  Umm Sayyaf also admitted she had sole responsibility for Mueller, Individual #2, Individual #3, and others in captivity while her husband travelled on ISIL business.  In addition, she admitted to hosting ISIL members, including al-Baghdadi, at her residence.

According to the affidavit, Umm Sayyaf admitted that al-Baghdadi “owned” Mueller during her captivity at the Sayyaf residence, and admitted that “owning” is equivalent to slavery. 

Umm Sayyaf has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.  The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick and Trial Attorneys Bridget Behling and John Gibbs are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:16-mj-63.

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

National Security
Updated February 8, 2016