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PHOENIX — 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 ISIS 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 empty-handed. He said he saw Mueller's face for just a few seconds when guards uncovered it to show it was the American hostage.
The guards told Mueller, 26, that Alkhani wouldn't 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."
The Syrian spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday via webcam from Turkey, detailing how he met Mueller in 2010 and the last time he saw her in 2013 as a prisoner of ISIS. Mueller's death was confirmed last week.
Mueller and Alkhani were taken hostage in August 2013 after leaving a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, where he was hired to fix the Internet connection. Alkhani said Mueller had begged him to let her tag along despite the dangers of traveling into the war-torn region and that 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."
Alkhani said he was released from captivity after 20 days and against the advice of his friends returned to Syria from Turkey later in 2013 to try to get Mueller back.