Kayla Mueller and her Syrian boyfriend
Kayla Mueller, an American woman who was allegedly killed last week
in a coalition bombing of an Islamic State encampment, had a Syrian boyfriend who is a prominent member of the Syrian revolutionary groups. But the boyfriend, Omar al-Khani, has a story that doesn't quite add up
Something also doesn’t ring true about his account of how he met
Mueller. He claims she answered an ad for a roommate in Cairo, where
he’d moved after spending several years in Sudan working as “events
marketing” executive, and where she’d traveled on a short vacation. (Who
knew there was a market for event planning in Sudan?) The Sudan
connection jumps out, because at home in Arizona Mueller had been
actively engaged in Darfur-related protests. Maybe the story in the Mail
is accurate, but it is also plausible that they had been in contact
online regarding Sudan before, and that’s why she went to visit him in
Al Khani was in Cairo when the Arab Spring broke out. Soon the
ferment spread to Syria, and he went back there to participate in the
anti-Assad movement. He
soon became a “coordinator” of a “Facebook battalion of
revolutionaries” that facilitated communications among anti-Assad forces.
He claims the title of “Secretary General of the Syrian Revolution
Coordinators.” Before long, he was a go-to guy for western media, being
quoted about Syrian events in the Telegraph, Financial Times, Die Welt, Public Radio International,
and other publications. He also worked as a photographer for Reuters,
and his photos were run by Vanity Fair, AFP, and other media. He was
regularly traveling to rebel-held areas of Syria as a photographer.
Most bizarrely, he wrote a profile of ISIS leader Al Baghdadi while Kayla Mueller was in ISIS captivity. (The
article was originally written by al Khani, and Maya Gebeily, but their
names were not on the byline of the piece as it ran in Newsweek. Another odd thing.)
In other words, al Khani was pretty much a celebrity in Syrian
revolutionary circles, with considerable familiarity with ISIS. It is
almost inconceivable that ISIS did not know who he was. But in the Daily Mail
interview he presents himself as just some Syrian guy, and plays down
his activism: indeed, that isn’t mentioned at all. Why so shy all of a
sudden about describing his work? He was General Secretary, after all,
and had been quite assiduous in promoting his role as an activist in
print and film. Now all of a sudden he hides his light under a bushel
And of course Syrian revolutionary circles are rife with Islamists of
all stripes, from the Muslim Brotherhood to numerous varieties of
Salafists. Al Khani navigated in those circles for years. He did not
mention much about religion from what I’ve seen, though an
acknowledgement of receiving funds from Muslim Brotherhood members
and an expression of gratitude to people in Turkey for help are
That all raises questions about his relationship with ISIS, and their
treatment of him. He obviously had deep connections in the Syrian
opposition. That had to have mattered.
Again, his word is the sole basis for reports that ISIS held him
captive and tortured him, and then freed him. Twice. Maybe it happened,
but maybe it didn’t.
The story of the reason for his fateful trip with Mueller in August,
2013 also strains credulity. He supposedly made the trip to one of the
most dangerous cities on earth to fix the wifi at the Medicins Sans Frontiers office
in Aleppo. Events marketing executive, photographer, activist,
filmmaker, and . . . wifi repairman? Quite the Renaissance Man.
The Daily Mail story also suggests that Mueller insisted
that al Khani take her to Syria with him on this trip, and insinuates
she hadn’t been there before. But she posted pictures from “Souria” (a
tell that she had been radicalized) she had taken earlier, so why the
suggestion that she had to pester al Khani to take her along?
Finally, I don’t find the story of Mueller ruining her chance at
freedom by refusing to acknowledge that she was his wife to be credible.
Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe. But it sounds like a convenient tale to
explain why he could not bring her out. Again, we have only his word
that he tried.
Read the whole thing
Labels: Bashar al-Assad, International Solidarity Movement, Islamic State, kidnapping, Nusra Front, Syria, Syrian uprising