National Security

Human Rights Group Confirms Death of Jailed US Citizen in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad / Getty Images

A U.S. aid worker died in Syria while imprisoned in 2016, a human rights group confirmed in a report released this month.

Layla Shweikani, a Syrian-born American who had studied at the Syrian Arab International University, was arrested by agents of Bashar al Assad's government in December 2016. She had returned to Syria in 2015 to assist civilians in the war-ravaged country.

According to a Syrian Network for Human Rights report, released Dec. 2, Shweikani was recently registered by the Syrian government to have died almost two years ago, on Dec. 28, 2016. The organization pointed the finger at Assad's government. "[W]e believe she was executed in Saydnaya military prison in Damascus Suburbs governate," the report reads. In November alone, 15 civilians died as a result of torture in Syria, bringing the year total to 964, according to the report. Of those deaths, Assad's forces are responsible for 97 percent.

After her arrest, the United States, via the Czech Republic ambassador to Syria, had confirmed she was alive. Though no new information came out in the years that followed, Shweikani's family in Chicago had held out hope for her survival.

In late November 2018, the Syrian government updated its civil registry to include Shweikani among the many long-dead that the government had failed to previously report. Experts consulted by CBS News supported the Syrian Network for Human Rights' contention that Shweikani had been executed.

The U.S. Department of State told ABC News it is "aware of reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Syrian regime custody," but declined to comment further, citing privacy.