American writer unexpectedly freed by al Qaeda affiliate in Syria

American writer unexpectedly freed by al Qaeda affiliate in Syria

PanARMENIAN.Net - Held for nearly two years in a prison run by an affiliate of al Qaeda in Syria, an American freelance writer was unexpectedly freed on Sunday, Aug 24, following extensive mediation by Qatar, the tiny Gulf emirate and United States ally that has successfully negotiated the release of numerous Western hostages in exchange for multimillion-dollar ransoms, the New York Times reports.

Relatives of the freed hostage, Peter Theo Curtis, 45, said that while they were not privy to the exact terms, they were told that no ransom had been paid.

The surprise liberation by the Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, came less than a week after the decapitation of another American journalist, James Foley, held by a different and even more radical jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Foley’s death, apparently at the hands of a masked ISIS guard believed to be British, which was filmed and uploaded on YouTube, came after European nations and organizations had negotiated the liberation of more than a dozen of their citizens held in the same cell as Foley for ransoms averaging more than $2.5 million, according to former hostages, their families, negotiators and officials involved in their releases.

News of Curtis’s release came as British officials said they were close to identifying Foley’s suspected killer, based on voice-recognition technology, eavesdropped phone recordings and other intelligence tools.

Relatives of Curtis said in an interview that after numerous failed starts and after having received ransom demands ranging from $3 million to $25 million, the panicked family was introduced by Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, to her Qatari counterpart after learning that Qatar had successfully won the release of Europeans kidnapped by al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

The United States is one of only a handful of countries that has strictly adhered to a no-ransom policy, refusing to make concessions of any kind to designated terrorist groups. This is in stark contrast to most European nations, who have now unintentionally become Al Qaeda’s largest fund-raiser, paying more than $125 million to the network’s direct affiliates to free European citizens just in the past five years, according to a monthslong investigation by The New York Times.

American experts on ISIS and Middle East politics suggested that Qatar, which has supported some militant Islamic extremist groups in the past but is an important American ally, moved more aggressively to help secure Mr. Curtis’s freedom after Mr. Foley was killed, partly to emphatically send a message that it opposes groups like ISIS, the NYT says.

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