Kidnapped American journalist Peter Theo Curtis has been freed in Syria, the U.S. State Department announced Sunday.
Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate kidnapped Curtis near the Syria-Turkey border in Oct. 2012. He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers Sunday at 6:40 p.m. (local time) in the Golan Heights, the UN wrote on its website. Curtis was immediately given a medical check-up, then turned over to U.S. authorities.
The Qatar government was instrumental in negotiating the release, according to a statement by the Curtis family.
News of the freelance journalist’s release comes just five days after a graphic video surfaced on YouTube showing James Foley, another American journalist captured in Syria by militants in 2012, being beheaded.
In June of this year, a video of Curtis was sent to several media outlets. It showed him looking disheveled, yet relatively healthy as he pleaded for his life. “I have three days left. Three days – please do something,” he said.
Below is a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry announcing Curtis’ release.
Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home after so much time held in the clutches of Jabhat Al-Nusrah.
For two years, this young American has been separated from his family. Finally he is returning home. Theo’s mother, whom we’ve known from Massachusetts and with whom we’ve worked during this horrific period, simply refused to give up and has worked indefatigably to keep hope alive that this day could be a reality.
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.
Every waking hour, our thoughts and our faith remain with the Americans still held hostage and with their families, and we continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home.
UPDATE: The family of the released journalist released the following statement via the State Department:
“Peter Theo Curtis, a published author and freelance journalist from Boston and Vermont who writes under the name Theo Padnos, was released today after more than 22 months in captivity in Syria. The Curtis family is deeply grateful to the governments of the United States and Qatar and to the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin.
My heart is full at the extraordinary, dedicated, incredible people, too many to name individually, who have become my friends and have tirelessly helped us over these many months,” said Theo’s mother, Nancy Curtis, of Cambridge, Mass. “Please know that we will be eternally grateful.”
Nancy Curtis asked for privacy in the immediate aftermath of her son’s release. Alternative family contacts are listed at the end of this news release.
“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal, but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS,” Nancy said.
“I have gotten to know the Foley family during these many long months of uncertainty and worry, and have seen Diane Foley’s bravery and her heroic efforts firsthand, efforts that helped rally the spirits of the families of all the journalists and others being held captive. We appeal to the captors of the remaining hostages to release them in the same humanitarian spirit that prompted Theo’s release. 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 said.
She added: “My entire focus right now is on helping the other families of those still being held in Syria, and on taking care of my son.”
The family believes that Theo, 45, was captured shortly after he crossed into Syria in October 2012 and has been held since then by the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra or by splinter groups allied with Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Theo has a deep concern and regard for the people of Syria, which is why he returned during the war. He wanted to help others and to give meaning and to bear witness to their struggles,” Nancy added. “I am very fortunate that I do not have to tell his whole story. He eventually will be able to do so himself.”
Theo was born Peter Theophilus Eaton Padnos in Atlanta, Georgia, where his father, Michael Padnos, who is now a writer living in Paris, was working as a lawyer. Theo graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Massachusetts and is fluent in French and Arabic. He also speaks German and Russian. He first became interested in writing about disaffected youth while working as a teacher in the Vermont prison system, resulting in his first book, “My Life Has Stood a Loaded Gun.”
While working as a journalist in Yemen, Theo became interested in the stories of the many disaffected young men from the West coming to study Islam and he eventually wrote about them in his book, “Undercover Muslim,” published in the United Kingdom. Theo changed his legal name to Peter Theo Curtis after publication of that book to make it easier to travel in the Arab world, although he continued to work as a journalist, writing under the name Theo Padnos.
He grew to love Syria and its people a decade ago while studying Arabic and Russian in Damascus.
The family asks that journalists with immediate questions or in need of background contact one of Theo’s cousins at the numbers below. Above all, we ask that everyone now dedicate themselves to the safe release of the remaining hostages in Syria.