Kidnapped American writer released in Syria
Peter Theo Curtis, an American freelance writer who was kidnapped two years ago in Syria by the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra front, has been freed from captivity, US sources have confirmed.
Curtis was freed due to the intervention of Qatar, who has brokered the release of dozens of westerners in the Middle East over the years.
Relatives of Mr. 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. As soon as Qatar became involved, the relatives said, they felt as if an avenue of communication had been opened. For the first time, they were able to send a proof-of-life question which only Mr. Curtis could have answered: What was the subject of your Ph.D. dissertation? (Answer: a museum started by the mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope.)
“Our family wants to thank the country of Qatar in a big way,” said Amy Rosen, a cousin. “Every person that our family dealt with in Qatar said that under no circumstances would a ransom be paid — and that this was something the U.S. government had requested, and they had agreed to,” she said. “But at the same time, we don’t pretend to know everything that happened.”
The United Nations said in a statement that Mr. Curtis had been handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in Al Rafid village, in the disputed Golan Heights region straddling Syria and Israel, at 6:40 p.m. local time. The family was told that an American doctor met him, and after a check-up had confirmed that he was healthy. He will be debriefed by the F.B.I. before he returns home.
Ms. Rosen and Viva Hardigg, another cousin, said they began hearing late Saturday night that Qatar’s efforts had succeeded, and that Mr. Curtis was soon going to be delivered to an appointed spot in the Golan Heights.
Al-Nusra members are no shrinking violets. when it comes to executing their enemies, so Curtis can consider himself lucky, indeed.
The US government does not pay any ransom for prisoners held by designated terrorist groups like al-Nusra But for European countries, it's a different story:
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.
The policy of not paying ransoms has protected Americans by not making them desirable hostages — they represent only a small share of the total. But it has put Americans at a disproportionately high risk of execution if they are abducted. ISIS — which killed Mr. Foley, 40, after having demanded a 100 million euro ransom — has threatened to execute Mr. Sotloff.
Buying their enemies the rope to hang them with is pretty stupid. You can sympathize with the families when our no ransom policy results in a horrific execution like that endured by the Foley family. But it is ultimately the correct policy, since it creates far fewer anguished families whose loved ones are kidnapped.
Thanks go out to the government of Qatar for their willingness to help.