News / Middle East

US Journalist Held in Syria Freed

Journalist Peter Theo Curtis (al Jazeera)
Journalist Peter Theo Curtis (al Jazeera)
Victor Beattie

American freelance journalist Peter Theo Curtis was freed Sunday by the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra, who had held him captive for nearly two years in Syria. The release came five days after a video posted on the Internet showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley at the hands of an Islamist State (IS) militant.

Curtis was handed over to U.N. peacekeepers in the village of Al-Rafid, in the Golan Heights, late Sunday and delivered to American representatives. U.S. officials say he is now out of Syria and will be reunited with his family soon.

Jonathan Adelman, associate professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, said there are a couple of ways the Curtis release is tied to the August 19 video of Foley’s execution.

"One is that al-Nusra, which is more of a Syrian group, rather than a caliphate or international group, clearly wanted to demonstrate that, even though they’ve killed and tortured people before, that they’re not like ISIS. They’re trying to differentiate themselves [from IS]. Secondly, for Qatar, [the release is] very important because they just suffered in the Israeli-Hamas war a major setback several weeks ago when they and Turkey guaranteed a cease-fire and they and Turkey were going to deliver Hamas for the cease-fire, and they failed," said Adelman.

Middle East analyst Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco said the Curtis release may also be an attempt by al-Nusra to forestall any potential expansion of U.S. air strikes to Syria from northern Iraq.

"There is some suspicion that the United States and perhaps other countries will take their battle against ISIS that we have already seen develop in Iraq across the Syrian border, and I think the al-Nusra folks are trying to make it clear they are a separate grouping and don’t want to be on the receiving end of any U.S. military retaliation," said Zunes.

The Curtis family says the journalist was captured shortly after crossing into Syria in October 2012. Details of his release are unclear, but Curtis’s mother, Nancy, said the family was 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.  She said her Cambridge, Massachusetts family is “eternally grateful” to all those who helped negotiate his release.

The White House said President Barack Obama “shares the joy and relief… now that Theo is out of Syria and safe.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement, said 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 the journalist’s release and that of any Americans held hostage in Syria.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. At least 70 have been killed in the past two years.  More than 80 have been kidnapped and about 20 are currently missing in Syria.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week it is “increasingly likely” the masked executioner of journalist James Foley was a British national.

Appearing on U.S. television Sunday, Britain's ambassador to the United States, Peter Westmacott, indicated intelligence agencies are close to identifying Foley’s executioner.

"I’ve been in touch, obviously, in the last day or two, with my colleagues at home.  We’re not yet in a position to say exactly who this is, but there is some very sophisticated voice-identification technology and other measures that we have got which should allow us to be very clear about who this person is before very long," said Westmacott.

Westmacott said there may be as many as 500 people from the United Kingdom who have gone to join the IS jihadists. 

Memorial services for Foley were held Sunday in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and in his hometown of Rochester, New Hampshire. Members of the Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate, university students, lawmakers and diplomats, including the U.S. Consul General in Erbil, Joseph Pennington, were on hand for the service in Iraq.

"James Foley went to the darkest of places to shine the light of truth.  Today, our thoughts, our prayers go out to James Foley’s family, his friends and colleagues who are grieving his loss," said Pennington.

The memorial Mass at the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in New Hampshire was attended by Foley’s parents and hundreds of others and led by Bishop Peter Libasci.

"Since this moment in our lives is international in scope, crossing all boundaries, yet very personal, bound together by a deep sense of human compassion and heartfelt remorse.  I wish to extend to you, in the name of all people of good will, our deepest sympathy," said Libasci.

The bishop also read aloud a letter from Pope Francis extending his condolences.  A funeral for Foley is expected to be held on October 18th, on what would have been his 41st birthday.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More