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US hostage freed after being held in Syria for two years

An American held hostage for 22 months by an Islamic rebel group in Syria was freed on Sunday, just days after a video showed the slaying of a fellow US journalist at the hands of jihadists.

“Finally he is returning home,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said, confirming the release of Peter Theo Curtis, a 45-year-old author and freelance journalist whose disappearance had not been previously reported.

Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the village of Al Rafid, Quneitra, in the Golan Heights and, after undergoing a medical checkup, was transferred to US representatives, the UN said.

News of his release came less than a week after a grisly video surfaced showing the beheading of American reporter James Foley at the hands of an Islamic State militant.

“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,” Kerry said, referring to the Al-Nusra Front, another Islamic rebel group operating in Syria.

Kerry said the United States had reached out to more than two dozen countries for help in securing Curtis’ release, and that of any other American held hostage in Syria.

Family: We are eternally grateful 

Curtis’ family thanked both the governments of the United States and Qatar, as well as others who helped negotiate his release.

“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,” his mother Nancy said.

“Please know that we will be eternally grateful,” she added, pleading for privacy.

Captured in October 2012

According to the family’s statement, Curtis was captured shortly before he crossed into Syria in October 2012 and was held since then “by the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra or by splinter groups allied with Jabhat al-Nusra.”

The Islamic State and Al-Nusra, who both have thousands of fighters in their ranks, are rooted in Al-Qaeda in Iraq but the two groups have been openly at war with each other in Syria since early this year.

Details of Curtis’ release remain unclear. However, his mother 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.”

Describing him as a published author and freelance journalist from Boston and Vermont, the family statement said Curtis writes under the name Theo Padnos. - AFP