An American freelance journalist held captive for nearly two years by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria was freed Sunday in a handover to U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
The freelance journalist, Peter Theo Curtis, 45, from Boston, was abducted near the Syria-Turkey border in October 2012. He was held by the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, which has broken with the even more radical Islamic State.
Another American journalist, James W. Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria the following month, was beheaded last week by the Islamic State, which posted the images of his death on YouTube.
The United Nations confirmed in a statement on its website Curtis was transferred to the custody of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Al-Rafid village, in the disputed Golan Heights region straddling Syria and Israel, at 6:40 p.m. local time.
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“After receiving a medical checkup, Mr. Curtis was handed over to representatives of his government,” the statement said.
Curtis’ extended family released a statement thanking the governments of the United States and Qatar and “the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin.”
Nancy Curtis, the journalist’s mother, asserted in the statement his release was secured without any ransom payment, one of the primary motivations for such abductions by the Nusra Front, the Islamic State and affiliated groups.
“While the family is not privy to the exact terms that were negotiated, we were repeatedly told by representatives of the Qatari government that they were mediating for Theo’s release on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money,” Nancy Curtis said.
Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the news. “Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home,” he said in a statement. “Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo’s release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria.”
In a video dated June 30 and obtained by The New York Times, Curtis is seen disheveled, with bound hands, with a man holding an automatic weapon at his side. Curtis begs for his life, saying: “I have three days left. Three days - please do something.” A second video, released just weeks later, has a different tone. Speaking from a script, he says his captors had treated him well and that he “had everything” he needed.