The United States has firmly denied paying a ransom to an al Qaeda affiliate in exchange for the release of Peter Theo Curtis, the American writer held captive in Syria for nearly two years. "We don't make concessions to terrorist organizations," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday. "We're unequivocal in our opposition to paying ransom to terrorists."
The unexpected release of Curtis was aided behind-the-scenes by the oil-rich nation of Qatar, a key supporter of the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad and a player in past hostage release negotiations, according to the State Department. "A range of senior government officials, including from the State Department, were in touch with partners in the region, specifically the Qataris, about working for the release of American citizens held in Syria," Psaki said. She added that the U.S. encouraged Qatar not to pay a ransom.
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The State Department said Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, an Israeli-held region in southwest Syria, at 6:40 p.m. local time (11:40 a.m ET) Sunday after being freed from the clutches of Islamist terror group Jabhat Al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front. After a medical evaluation, Curtis was released to U.S. government personnel and taken to Tel Aviv. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said the U.N. was not involved in negotiations for the writer's release, according to the Associated Press.
Psaki said the U.S. was not aware of any other Americans being held by Al-Nusra, noting that the organization has perpetrated "many horrific acts" and has "close ties" to al Qaeda. She said the U.S. did not have a timetable for the writer's return to the United States. She said preliminary evaluations showed he appeared to be in good health.
Curtis, 45, who was born Peter Theophilus Eaton Padnos, changed his name after penning two books so that he could travel through the Middle East without hindrance, according to a statement by his family. The family said they believe Curtis was captured shortly after he crossed into Syria in 2012.
— with The Associated Press