An American journalist held by a terrorist group in Syria was freed Sunday after nearly two years of captivity, according to U.S. officials.
Peter Theo Curtis, 45, a freelance journalist from Boston, was released in the Golan Heights Sunday evening, and U.S. authorities said they expected him to be reunited with his family "shortly," according to a statement from Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser.
Jabhat al-Nusrah, al Qaeda's Syrian arm, held Curtis for 22 months. His safe release comes just five days after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria circulated a video of American journalist James Foley's beheading.
U.S. officials hailed Curtis’ release as a positive turn-of-events after a difficult week for a nation still grieving over Foley’s slaying.
“Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home after so much time held in the clutches of Jabhat al Nusrah,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
For the nearly two years Curtis was held, Kerry said U.S. officials tried to negotiate his release, reaching out to more than two dozen countries asking for help, influence and leverage.
"Every waking hour, our thoughts and our faith remain with the Americans still held hostage and with their families, and we continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home," he said.
There are at least three additional Americans being held hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or an affiliated group, including Steven Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist from Florida. In the video showing Foley's death, the executioner warns Obama that Sotloff's life depends on his next move.
"Today, the American people share in the joy and relief that Theo's family feels, and we look forward to his safe return home," Rice said. "We will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of all Americans who are held overseas so that they can be reunited with their families as well."
Curtis' family released a statement (read it below) Sunday expressing overwhelming gratitude to U.S. and Qatari governments and "to the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin."
“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,” said his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, Mass. “Please know that we will be eternally grateful.”
She asked for privacy over the next few weeks and pleaded with the captors of remaining hostages to release them "in the same humanitarian spirt that prompted Theo's release."
While noting that she isn't privy to the exact terms of her son's release, she said Qatari government officials told her they were negotiating for Curtis' release on a humanitarian basis "without the payment of money."
While they are "terribly relieved" that Theo will be coming home, she said she and the rest of the Curtis family are "deeply saddened" by Foley's "terrible, unjustified killing."
The United Nations on Sunday evening confirmed that it facilitated Curtis' release to U.S. officials. The handover took place at 6:40 p.m. local time in the village of Al Rafid in the Golan Heights, a disputed area between Israel and Syria.
"After receiving a medical check-up, Mr. Curtis was handed over to representatives of his government," the United Nations said in a statement.