-- [This report has been updated.]
U.S. officials previously said they suspected Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS figure killed in the U.S. raid, had been given Mueller as a forced bride last year.
Today Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told a group of reporters that the U.S. was “looking into” the grim link between Sayyaf and Mueller when he was questioned about it by The Associated Press, according to an audio recording of the morning meeting. He was the first U.S. official to go on the record about the purported link, but after the AP, ABC News and other organizations reported the comments, Schiff’s office contacted ABC News to clarify his statements.
“I didn’t mean to imply anything specific about one particular hostage,” Schiff later told ABC News. “We certainly want to know anything that they may [know] about any hostage… They [interrogators] are going to ask about any, what they know about any hostages, and whether there are any records involving the financing involving kidnapping operations.”
Being given over to Sayyaf would have taken Mueller out of immediate danger of being beheaded on video, like three of her fellow American hostages who met that grisly fate. But on Feb. 10, ISIS announced Mueller had been killed in a coalition airstrike -- with the White House quickly confirming her death but denying it was in an airstrike, without elaborating.
The Mueller family has declined to comment on the weekend Syria raid through their spokesperson, who said they are monitoring developments.
Sayyaf was the target of the first known ground force assault to capture a terrorist leader inside Syria by 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, a U.S. counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit known as Delta Force and Combat Applications Group. Officials told ABC News that the plan was to interrogate Sayyaf and possibly charge him in federal court in New York for terrorism offenses – as well as Mueller's death, if evidence warranted it.
American commandos in a pitched firefight with a large number of ISIS defenders at a compound near an oil site -- who at times engaged in hand-to-hand combat in an urban compound filled with women and children, according to officials -- were forced to kill Sayyaf "when he engaged U.S. forces," the National Security Council said in a statement announcing the operation on Saturday.
The American team rescued a young Yezidi woman held as a slave by Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who officials said is being interrogated in Iraq about "any information she may have regarding hostages – including American citizens who were held by ISIL [ISIS]," NSC spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said on Saturday.
"We'll look at the intelligence we got," Schiff told reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast today. "Part of what we'll be looking at is whether Sayyaf, the husband and wife, had a role in hostage taking or... ransoming of hostages."
It is now believed that Mueller at times lived in the same house that was the objective of the U.S. special mission unit, one official said.
Mueller's parents were notified of the raid prior to its launch, whereas some other families were told about it in the hours after it was over and the team had returned to Iraq with the freed Yezidi captive and the target's wife, sources said.
"Given the number of hostile forces encountered, this was not an easy operation," Schiff told reporters, questioning whether the raid was worth the danger of fighting in an impermissible environment. "Going into the heart of ISIS-held territory is a whole new level of risk."
Last summer American special operations forces conducted a raid near Raqqah, Syria in an attempt to rescue American hostages. But the hostages had been moved by the time the commandos got there and each were killed over the months that followed. ISIS is not believed to be holding any more Americans.
ABC News’ Justin Fishel contributed to this report.