WASHINGTON (AP) — The Islamic State militant group is holding hostage a young American woman who was doing humanitarian aid work in Syria, a family representative said Tuesday. The 26-year-old woman is the third American known to have been kidnapped by the militant group.
Journalist held captive in Syria arrives in US
This image provided by the Curtis family shows Nancy Curtis, left, and her son, Peter Theo Curtis, right, in Boston, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Curtis, a freelance reporter who wrote under the byline Theo Padno and who had been held hostage for about two years in Syria, returned to the U.S. Tuesday. (AP Photo/Curtis Family)
BOSTON (AP) — Journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned home to the United States on Tuesday, two days after being freed by a Syrian extremist group that held him hostage for 22 months, his family said.
Curtis family spokeswoman Betsy Sullivan said in a statement that Curtis arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport Tuesday afternoon after leaving Tel Aviv. By evening he had been reunited with his mother Nancy Curtis at Boston Logan International Airport.
"I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today — strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants, and most of all my family — to say welcome home," Curtis said in the statement.
He also said he was "deeply indebted" to the U.S. officials who worked to get him released.
Curtis, 45, of Boston, was released by al-Nusra Front, a Sunni extremist group.
Last week, journalist James Foley, who also was kidnapped in 2012 while covering the Syrian uprising, was killed. The Islamic State group posted a Web video showing his beheading.
The extremists said they killed the Rochester, New Hampshire, resident in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.
Curtis' mother said she was "overwhelmed with relief" that her son had been returned to her. "But this is a sober occasion because of the events of the past week," she said. "My heart goes out to the other families who are suffering."
U.S. freelance journalist, Austin Tice of Houston, disappeared in Syria in August 2012. He is believed to be held by the Syrian government.
The Islamic State group recently threatened to kill American hostages to avenge the crushing airstrikes in Iraq against militants advancing on Mount Sinjar and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
The 26-year-old woman was captured last year while working with three humanitarian groups in Syria. A representative for the family and U.S. officials asked that the woman not be identified out of fear for her safety. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
More than a week ago, freelance journalist James Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire, was beheaded by the Islamic State group, which kidnapped him in November 2012. Foley, 40, had worked in a number of conflict zones across the Mideast, including Iraq, Libya and Syria. He was in northern Syria on assignment for Agence France-Press and the Boston-based news organization GlobalPost when the car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control.
The Islamic State video of Foley's beheading also showed another of the missing American journalists, Steven Sotloff, and warned he would be killed next if U.S. airstrikes continued. U.S. officials believe the video was made days before its release and have grown increasingly worried about Sotloff's fate.
Other American hostages have been held by other militant groups, including Peter Curtis from Boston, who was recently released by al-Nusra Front, a rival Sunni extremist group. Another U.S. freelance journalist, Austin Tice of Houston, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be held by the Syrian government. Tice was working for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other media outlets when he was kidnapped.
The Islamic State militant group is seeking to create a caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq. The militant group is so ruthless in its attacks against all people they consider heretics or infidels that it has been disowned by al-Qaida's leaders.
President Barack Obama said in a speech in North Carolina on Tuesday that "America does not forget" and vowed justice for Foley's murder.
In its annual report last November, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimated at least 30 journalists have been kidnapped or have disappeared in Syria — held and threatened with death by extremists or taken captive by gangs seeking ransom. The CPJ described the widespread seizure of journalists as unprecedented and largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help to negotiate the captives' release.
The group reported 52 journalists have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011 and documented at least 24 other journalists who disappeared earlier this year but are now safe.
Separately, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders last fall cited higher figures, saying at least 60 "news providers" are being detained and more than 110 have been killed.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Washington and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.