After what can only be described as a heartbreaking and tragic week, we finally received some good news on Sunday: an American-born journalist captured several years ago by an Islamic extremist-linked group is heading home:
The U.S. government says an American held hostage for about two years by an al Qaeda-linked group in Syria has been released.
The Obama administration identifies the man as Peter Theo Curtis of Massachusetts. Curtis, a journalist, had been held since 2012 by Jahbat al-Nusrah, an extremist group fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Secretary of State John Kerry released the following statement:
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.
Indeed. But how, exactly, was Curtis' freedom first brought about? Well, according to the Washington Post, the government of Qatar was intimately involved:
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network, which first reported the release, said Qatar had played a key role in the negotiations. It did not give details, but Qatar has been central to a number of hostage releases in Syria in recent months.
In one release negotiated by Qatar last year, Lebanese captives in rebel custody were exchanged for prisoners held by the Syrian government. Earlier this year, a group of Syrian nuns held by Jabhat al-Nusra also were released in return for prisoners held by the government.
Despite these laudable efforts, however, NBC News reports that almost two dozen journalists are still languishing as hostages in Syria alone:
The release comes just days after the Islamist militant group ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley and threatened to kill another American journalist in their custody, Steven Sotloff. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 20 journalists are currently being held captive in Syria.
At least some of these journalists, too, are presumed to be prisoners of ISIS -- a fact, as it happens, obviously not lost on the current administration.
“Just as we celebrate Theo’s freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria,” the White House said in an official statement. “Notwithstanding today’s welcome news, the events of the past week shocked the conscience of the world. As President Obama said, we have and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed.”