The operation to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist, the Islamic State group’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was named after American aid worker and former ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller.
And on finding out that the operation had been named for her daughter, Marsha Mueller started to cry.
“Gosh what a gift, for Kayla and for us,” she told NBC News. “It also lets us know that this administration did not forget about Kayla and was trying to help us find Kayla.”
Families of ISIS’ victims and survivors of the hyper-violent jihadis lauded President Donald Trump and U.S. troops after the group’s brutal leader was killed in a U.S.-led raid in northwestern Syria on Saturday.
Mueller was captured in Syria in August 2013 after heading to the Turkish-Syrian border in December 2012 to work with refugees. She was killed in 2015.
Mueller’s parents said that they spoke directly with Trump after the operation, and pressed for more information about their daughter, including details on where she is buried.
“Justice was brought to those Americans who were so brutally killed, as were others, as the president pointed out,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
Al-Baghdadi, who had led ISIS since 2010, had a a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head. He declared himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims, in 2014, and was reviled for violence against religious minorities, the imposition of a fanatical version of Islam on the territories the group controlled, and terror attacks around the world.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
The mother of former ISIS hostage James Foley, who was killed in 2014, also praised the operation and pressed for U.S. intervention to help other Americans held in the region, including journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria in 2012, and psychotherapist Majd Kamalmaz, who has been missing in Syria since 2017.
“I would love to see the same American expertise used to free innocent American hostages who are held around the world, and we know of about a dozen in Syria,” said Diane Foley in an interview with NBC News.
“Jim did not like violence, and I think he would want our country to show how justice is best served through our court of law. I think that’s what he’d most want to see,” she added.
In 2013, journalist Steven Sotloff vanished in Syria. A year later, ISIS released a video of his beheading.
His parents, Art and Shirley Sotloff, put out a statement thanking those involved in the al-Baghdadi operation and pushed for the U.S. continued involvement fighting ISIS.
“It is our hope that our son’s surviving captors, nicknamed ‘the Beatles,’ will be brought to justice, that all remaining hostages are returned to safety, and that the United States will take every measure to eliminate the resurgence of ISIS and terror in all forms,” the statement read.
One of the groups most affected by the reign of ISIS were the Yazidis, adherents of one of the Middle East’s oldest religions who ISIS targeted for extermination. Thousands of Yazidis were slaughtered on their ancestral Sinjar mountain in northwestern Iraq, and Yazidi women taken as sex slaves for ISIS militants.
“This is a big moment not just for Yazidis but for all the world. He killed so many people. Everyone should be happy,” said Ahmed Burjus, the deputy director of Yazda, an international Yazidi support and advocacy organization, who moved to the U.K. in 2012.
However, Burjus also warned that Baghdadi’s death was not the end of ISIS and said that the world needs to bring ISIS members to justice.
“There are thousands of other ISIS leaders and members who were involved in committing this genocide and we hope they will also be accountable for their crimes. We know that by killing al-Baghdadi, ISIS won’t just vanish,” he added.
More locally, Muawiya Jassim, 37, who lived under ISIS control in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, said that al-Baghdadi’s death was “the best news I heard in a long time.”
Jassim, who now lives with his wife and four children in Hasakah, recalled how they “lived in constant anxiety and fear” under ISIS and how fighters forced them to watch the beheading of a man they said was a thief in front of a mosque.
“They are not Muslims, they are terrorists,” he said. “I’m very happy that he finally got what he deserved. I hope that the caliph will burn in hell.”
Residents in the former ISIS stronghold of Raqqa said they while they were happy about al-Baghdadi’s death, they worried that the group could still make a comeback.
“I was very happy when I heard that al-Baghdadi finally got killed but I don’t think ISIS is defeated with al-Baghdadi’s death,” said Hassoun Abo Darwish, a truck driver who lives in the Syrian city with his wife and three children.
He added that he worried the withdrawal of American troops would result in the return of the group.
“The ideology is still among his believers who are now living undercover between us. ISIS raised a whole generation. There is still much more to do,” he said.
Keir Simmons and Ammar Cheikh Omar contributed.