American Held Captive by Al Qaeda-Linked Group in Syria for Nearly Two Years Is Freed, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — An American held hostage in Syria by an Al Qaeda-linked group has been released after about two years, the Obama administration and a relative confirmed Sunday, days after militants had beheaded a U.S. journalist abducted while covering that country’s civil war.

In this image made from undated video obtained by The Associated Press, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a man believed to be Peter Theo Curtis, a U.S. citizen held hostage by an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, delivers a statement. (Image source: AP)

The U.S. identified the freed American as Peter Theo Curtis of Massachusetts and said he now was safe and outside of Syria. The United Nations said it helped with the handover to U.N. peacekeepers in a village in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights and that Curtis was released to American authorities after a medical checkup.

The administration provided no details about the circumstances of his abduction or his release. It was not known what prompted Curtis’ release.

A cousin of Curtis’, Viva Hardigg, declined to provide details on the circumstances of his release, but said that he had been held by the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

“He seems to be in good health,” Hardigg told The Associated Press. “We are deeply relieved and grateful for his return and the many people who have helped up secure his freedom. At the same time, we are thinking constantly of the other hostages who are still held and those working to help them be freed. We want to do everything we can to support their efforts.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said Jabhat al-Nusrah, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, had held Curtis. “Finally, he is returning home,” Kerry said in a statement.

He added that over the past two years, Washington had “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.”

Curtis is an author and freelance reporter from Boston who writes under the name Theo Padnos, CNN reported.

More on Curtis from CNN:

He was born in Atlanta and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont. Curtis holds a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of Massachusetts and is fluent in French and Arabic, according to a statement from his family. He also speaks German and Russian.

Another American, journalist James Foley, was beheaded by Islamic State militants who released a video last week blaming his death on U.S. airstrikes against their fighters in Iraq. Foley’s captors had demanded $132.5 million from his parents and political concessions from Washington. Neither obliged, authorities say.

For Al Qaeda and some other militant bands, ransoms paid to free kidnapped Europeans over the past decade have surpassed donations from private supporters as a source of funding, according to the United States and Britain.

The British government, like the U.S., adheres to a longstanding policy against paying ransoms to extremists.

A senior Obama administration official said last week the Islamic State had made a “range of requests” from the U.S. for Foley’s release, including changes in American policy and posture in the Mideast.

Dave Urbanski contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.