Peter Curtis, before his release to U.S. officials.
People holding flowers stand in front of a photograph of James Foley, the freelance journalist killed by the IS group, during a memorial service in Irbil, 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Aug.24, 2014. Foley, the U.S. journalist slain by Islamic State militants after being held in captivity for nearly two years, was remembered in a small ceremony in Irbil on Sunday. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic)
Marko Drobnjakovic • Associated Press,
Slain Journalist remembered: John and Diane Foley, above, spoke of their son, American journalist James Foley, at a mass for him Sunday at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester, N.H. The British ambassador to the U.S. said investigators are close to identifying the militant who beheaded James Foley. At left, mourners stood in front of a photograph of James Foley during a service Sunday in Irbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad.
Cheryl Senter • New York Times,
Al-Qaida frees U.S. journalist
- Article by: RUKMINI CALLIMACHI New York Times
- August 24, 2014 - 9:27 PM
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, who then released him to U.S. government officials.
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 that 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.
“After receiving a medical checkup, Curtis was handed over to representatives of his government,” the statement said. Marie Harf, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, said Curtis was then taken to Tel Aviv.
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 that 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. It remains unclear what Curtis’ captors received, if anything, for releasing him.
“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.
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the news, coming less than a week after the beheading of Foley had focused world attention on how the administration was confronting the ascendance of radical Islamic militancy in the Middle East, particularly the Islamic State.
“The president shares in the joy and relief that we all feel now that Theo is out of Syria and safe,” Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said. “But we continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria, and we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed.”
Kerry acknowledged that “after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home.”
In a video dated July 18 and obtained by the New York Times, Curtis is seen disheveled, with long unkempt hair and bound hands, with an armed 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 video released just weeks earlier, on June 30, had a different tone. Speaking from a script, he says his captors had treated him well and that he “had everything” he needed.
“Everything has been perfect — food, clothing, even friends,” he says in the footage.
That description of his captivity is at odds with the accounts given by Matthew Schrier, an American photojournalist who escaped in July 2013 after being held for seven months, much of the time alongside Curtis in the same makeshift prison cell.
Schrier described how his captors had tortured and starved him. In an interview soon after he regained his freedom, Schrier said his captors had forced a car tire over his knees, immobilized him with a wooden rod slid behind his legs, rolled him face down on a cement floor and beat the soles of his feet until he could not walk.
Desperate to escape, Schrier managed, standing on his cellmate’s back, to unravel some wires in an opening in the wall of their cell, he said in the interview. That allowed him to wiggle through the opening, he said, but his cellmate, who was slightly heavier-set, became stuck and decided to stay in the cell, urging Schrier to go on without him.
The cellmate — only now revealed to be Curtis — endured 13 more months in captivity before the announcement of his freedom on Sunday. At the request of his family, news organizations had agreed not to identify him in their earlier reports of Schrier’s experiences.
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