US journalist Peter Theo Curtis is shown in this undated still frame taken from video courtesy of Al Jazeera.

An American journalist kidnapped nearly two years ago has been freed in Syria and handed over to UN representatives after Qatari mediation helped lead to his release, Al Jazeera reported yesterday.

Peter Theo Curtis was freed from captivity yesterday, after reportedly being abducted in Antakya, Turkey, from where he planned to enter Syria in October 2012, a report on the Doha-based channel’s website said.

Curtis’ release comes just days after the beheading of US journalist James Foley who was captured by a militant group in Syria in 2012.

On Tuesday, the Islamic State group released a graphic video on social media sites, showing one of its fighters beheading Foley, which it said was revenge for US raids on its territory.

In the video, titled “A Message To America”, the group claimed to be holding another US journalist, and said his life depended on US President Barack Obama’s next move.

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” said a masked man in the video posted on social media sites, speaking English with a British accent as he held a prisoner the video named as Steven Sotloff.

In a footage of Curtis  released on June 30, the American was shown dishevelled  with long hair and beard, but appearing to be in good health.

Speaking in a video obtained by Al Jazeera, Curtis read from a prepared script stating his name and profession, saying he was a journalist from Boston, Massachusetts.

Commenting on his treatment, Curtis said he “had everything” he needed and “everything has been perfect, food, clothing, even friends now”.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said the Islamic State group had used hostage-taking to extract money from governments but it was still unclear which group was behind Curtis’ kidnapping.

“In many cases prisoners change hands between groups, so it’s very hard to track down which group holds which hostage,” she said.

In June, a 27-year-old German held hostage by Islamic State fighters was released after Berlin reportedly made a deal with the group.

According to German newspaper die Welt am Sonntag, “something was given in return for his release”.

Earlier this year, 13 nuns were freed after being kidnapped by Syrian rebels following Lebanese-Qatari mediation, ending a three-month ordeal in a rare prisoner exchange with the government.

Reuters adds: Announcing the release of Theo Curtis, US  Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States was using “every diplomatic, intelligence and military tool” at its disposal to secure the release of other Americans held hostage in Syria.

A Qatari source said Curtis had been handed over to a representative of the United Nations in Syria.

“Qatar, like many countries, looks to free those in captive for humanitarian reasons,” the source added.

The source did not have details on what Qatar had done to free him, saying only that it had been a matter of “communication with the right people in Syria”.

The  source said he did not know if Qatar was involved in seeking to free other journalists, but added that “any captives with (Islamic State) will be very difficult for Qatar to free, while others with different groups would be easier.”

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Islamic State.

According to the CPJ, at least 67 journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the uprising, highlighting the risks of reporting from the country.


Humanitarian principles



The Foreign Ministry yesterday stated that based on the directives of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and on humanitarian grounds, Qatar had succeeded in releasing American journalist Peter Theo Curtis who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.   “On directives of HH the Emir, the competent bodies in the State of Qatar exerted relentless efforts to release the American journalist out of Qatar’s belief in the principles of humanity and its keenness on the lives of individuals and their right to freedom and dignity,” the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying.

The American journalist was handed to the UN peacekeeping mission (Blue Helmets), the QNA said.





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