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American Journalist Freed After Nearly Two Years In Captivity


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West, Arun Rath is away. I'm Tess Vigeland. An American journalist has been freed after nearly two years in captivity in Syria. New England native Peter Theo Curtis had been held by Islamic militants since October of 2012. NPR's Nathan Rott reports that his release today is a welcome relief to U.S. officials and others in the media after the beheading last week of another American journalist.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Peter Theo Curtis went missing near the Turkey-Syria border in 2012. His disappearance wasn't disclosed, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed in a statement Sunday that the U.S. had been working for nearly two years to free him. Using, quote, "every diplomatic, intelligence and military tool at our disposal." Curtis was being held by the al-Qaida linked group Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front. For some of that time, war photographer and fellow American journalist Matt Schrier was being held with him. Schrier talked about that experience with CBS's "60 Minutes" last November.


MATT SCHRIER: All I knew was that people were getting tortured. 'Cause my second day there, that's when I started hearing people screaming. And you'd hear - you'd hear, wack, (smacking noise).

ROTT: Schrier says that after three weeks he was taken to a cell with another prisoner that his captors said was American.


SCHRIER: And I looked and I was just like, oh, my god, he is an American. And, you know, it was a curveball, I didn't expect this at all. You know, like one of the first things I said was, oh, my god, they're collecting us.

ROTT: Schrier says he managed to escape through an opening in his cell by standing on the shoulders of his cellmate Curtis. Curtis, Schreier says couldn't get through the opening. In his statement, John Kerry said that Curtis's release was a relief, particularly after a week marked by, quote, "unspeakable tragedy." Last week, American journalist James Foley was beheaded by militants with the Islamic State.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Make me a channel of your peace.

ROTT: Foley's family and hundreds of mourners gathered in their hometown of Rochester, New Hampshire Sunday at a mass to remember the 40-year-old journalist.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But look how Jim has called so many together, the witness of his own, own dear heart.

ROTT: The Islamic State is believed to have other Americans in captivity. They're threatening to kill at least one other American journalist if the U.S. does not meet their demands, which include stopping airstrikes in Iraq. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
Previous versions of this story incorrectly gave James Foley's age as 35. Foley was 40.
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.