Kayla Mueller's boyfriend describes effort to free her

Kayla Jean Mueller -- ISIS Hostage, Kayla Mueller
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Kayla Mueller's boyfriend describes effort to free her
Courtesy: Mueller Family
#Obama confirms death of American #ISIS #hostage Kayla Mueller; Private Message from ISIS sent to Parents of ISIS Hostage, Kayla Mueller, Confirms Her Death http://read.bi/16QUgjt
Statement from the White House on the death of Kayla Mueller
Parents of #ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller urge her captors to contact them. http://t.co/oYOzFBF62r http://t.co/DTkx9od38u
The Mueller family have released new pictures of Kayla. http://t.co/vk7warF4OQ
The parents of American Islamic State (ISIS) hostage Kayla Mueller, who the extremist group claims was killed Friday by a Jordanian airstrike on the Syrian city of Raqqa, are hopeful that their daughter is still alive. Carl and Marsha Mueller said in a statement on Friday, "This news leaves us concerned, yet, we are still hopeful that Kayla is alive." Mueller's parents urged ISIS to contact them privately, and to treat their daughter as a guest.
.@ejmontini: For Kayla Mueller's family, waiting is not a game http://t.co/TvtOCrgFJv http://t.co/GEaSQNdKKv
Prescott stricken by loss, uncertainty of Kayla Mueller's fate. via @RebekahLSanders http://t.co/bfrIZc3aE4 #12news http://t.co/XdGdZjHznh
Family, others kept Kayla Mueller's capture a secret to protect her, @KarenBrown3TV reports http://t.co/bHlvjWYAqw http://t.co/noUUfRUS6m
Family of hostage Kayla Mueller breaks silence after #IslamicState claims: http://t.co/Dv5w7uOFwW | http://t.co/iSNja0KShX
JUST IN: ISIS sent Muellers an e-mail saying their daughter was dead and included a photo, David Martin reports; cause of death inconclusive
A local Palestinian man holds up a poster of slain ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller who worked in Palestine and was an activist with the International Solidarity Movement- a movement dedicated to supporting a free Palestinian state. In the Palestinian West Bank village of Bilin, west of Ramallah, the 10th anniversary of the popular resistance movement against the Israeli occupation was held on Friday afternoon. Israeli soldiers invaded the village on Friday, stopping protesters from marching into the olive orchards. Israeli soldiers assaulted Palestinians and international activists, beating them, spraying them with a chemical orange agent, as well as using hundreds of tear gas canisters. Live ammunition rounds were also fired at protesters, including sound bombs thrown at the feet of journalists. Journalists who were filming the protests were assaulted by Israeli soldiers as well. The village gained global notoriety when a decade ago locals as well as international activists would gather and organize weekly protests on Fridays, marching towards olive orchards and lands that were confiscated by the Israeli government to build illegal settlements and the separation barrier in the West Bank. The village gained even more popularity after one of its locals, Emad Burnat, filmed the Oscar-nominated film, Five Broken Cameras in which he showed the struggle of the Palestinian village against Israeli aggression. Scores of people, both Palestinian and international have been injured during weekly protests, the most infamous of whom was Basem Au Rahma who was killed in 2009 when a tear gas canister struck him in the chest. Two years later, in 2011, Jawaher Abu Rahma also died during a weekly protest after being hit with a tear gas canister. (Photo by Anna Ferensowicz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Palestinian protesters hold placard to protest against 'terrorism' on February 13, 2015 before a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Bilin, west of Ramallah. The poster shows a picture of US aid worker Kayla Mueller, who died as a hostage of Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (Photo credit ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian protesters hold placard to protest against 'terrorism' on February 13, 2015 before a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Bilin, west of Ramallah. The posters show pictures of US aid worker Kayla Mueller, who died as a hostage of Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (Photo credit ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Feb. 14, 2015 - Bilin, West Bank, Palestinian Territory - A Palestinian girl holds the picture of Islamic State captive Kayla Mueller during a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah February 13, 2015 (Credit Image: © Shadi Hatem/APA Images/ZUMA Wire via Alamy)

PHOENIX (AP) - Kayla Mueller was in a detention cell in Syria, face to face with her boyfriend who was posing as her husband. Had she told her captors she was married to Omar Alkhani, she might have been freed from the hands of Islamic State militants, he said. Instead, she denied being his wife.

Alkhani had persuaded a string of people to let him plead for her release, but he left the room empty-handed and said he was thrown into another cell. He said he saw her face for just a few seconds when guards uncovered it to show it was Mueller.

The guards told Mueller, 26, that Alkhani would not be harmed if she told the truth, so she apparently stuck to honesty to save him rather than take the slim chance to save herself, he said.

"Since she's American, they would not let her go anyway. No sense to stay here, both of us," Alkhani said. "Maybe she wanted to save me. Maybe she didn't know I came back to save her."

Such was the nature of Mueller, the American hostage from Prescott who was content without new clothes, a hair dryer, makeup and much of the wages she earned as an international aid worker to help others.

Alkhani spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday via webcam from Turkey in one of his first interviews, detailing how he met Mueller in 2010 and the last time he saw her in 2013 as a prisoner of the Islamic State group.

The U.S. government and Mueller's family confirmed her death last week. In the days since, hundreds of people have gathered to honor her in her hometown and in Flagstaff, where she attended Northern Arizona University.

Mueller and Alkhani were taken hostage in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria, where he was hired to fix the Internet connection. Mueller had begged him to let her tag along so she could see the suffering firsthand and help, despite the dangers of traveling into the war-torn region. He said he agreed reluctantly.

"We argued about it," he said. "In the end, I was afraid if she didn't go with me, she would go with someone else."

Mueller took advantage of an unexpected overnight stay at the hospital when the repairs took longer than expected and asked Syrian women about how they managed daily life. During what should have been a 10-minute trip to the bus station the next day, Mueller, Alkhani, the taxi driver and a fourth person were ambushed at gunpoint and threatened with death.

Mueller remained a hostage, while Alkhani was released a couple of months later after being beaten and interrogated about his work as a photographer, his religion and his relationship to Mueller, he said.

Against the advice of his friends, Alkhani said, he returned to Syria from Turkey later in 2013 to try to get back the woman he met three years earlier in Cairo after she responded to an advertisement he posted to house international visitors.

Mueller stayed less than a week in Cairo, but Alkhani said they quickly bonded and kept in touch through the Internet and traveled together, discussing ways they could change the world. They became a couple, and he said he promised her that he would always look out for her.

While she was in France learning the country's language to go to north Africa, Mueller encouraged Alkhani to follow his dream of helping fellow Syrians. She eventually joined him in Turkey near the Syrian border.

Alkhani said he spoke to her often about Syria, where bloodshed has gripped the country under the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad, and sent her recordings, photographs and other information that she used for her blog. Nearly half of Syria's population has been displaced, and some 200,000 people have died in the fighting.

"She wanted everyone to use their freedom to help us get freedom," he said.

When they were captured together and detained, Alkhani said he at least had some reassurance she was alive. He would cough or say something to make sure his voice was heard, and she sometimes would cough in return. Other times, he or his cellmates would peer under the door and see the sandals she was wearing, he said.

Alkhani said he was released after about 20 days, but he was told to forget about Mueller and his camera equipment.

Alkhani said he has been in touch with Mueller's family and held out hope like they did during her 18 months of captivity that she was alive. He convinced himself that the militants would release her, realizing she was only in Syria to help people.

"I didn't realize one day I will receive this call from somebody telling me, 'I am sorry,'" he said.

A spokesperson for Mueller's family said they didn't have any reason not to trust Alkhani's account.

"They know that he deeply cared for her, and when he went back to try and rescue her by posing as her boyfriend, they knew he was taking extreme risks to do that," the spokesperson said Sunday. The spokesperson talked to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person works in media relations for other families in Middle East hostage situations and wants to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

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