Experts warn independent aid workers of conflict zone dangers

Wed Feb 11, 2015 5:39pm EST
 
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By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Independent aid workers heading to conflict zones must be aware of the danger they face compared to staff from international organizations, humanitarian experts warned on Wednesday following the death of an American aid worker in Syria.

Kayla Mueller, 26, was held hostage for 18 months by Islamic State militants who sent her family an email and photograph over the weekend that enabled American intelligence to determine that she had been killed, said U.S. officials, who are investigating the cause of death.

Patrick Skinner, director of special projects for The Soufan Group, a security consulting firm in New York, said there was a "world of difference" between independent aid workers such as Mueller and those affiliated with major organizations.

"People like Kayla Mueller are at a real disadvantage without a trusted local network," Skinner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Mueller went to Turkey in December 2012 to work for a Turkish organization providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, having previously volunteered for schools and aid groups in the West Bank, Israel and India.

She was last seen in the Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2013 by Doctors Without Borders employees.

Security experts said there had not been a noticeable increase in the number of independent aid workers in Syria but there have been several recent cases of aid workers and journalists being captured by Islamic State.

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