American journalist held in Syria for almost two years is released

An American journalist held in Syria by Islamist rebels for close to two years was released on Sunday.

Peter Theo Curtis, 45, is believed to have been captured in October 2012 and held by the al-Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group with ties to al Qaeda.

“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 Curtis’ mother, Nancy Curtis. “Please know that we will be eternally grateful.”

The United Nations said Curtis was handed over to U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, which is under Israeli government control, and was given a medical checkup.

White House national security adviser Susan Rice said Curtis was safe, no longer in Syria, and expected to be reunited with his family shortly.

The United States was not involved in negotiations for his release but was aware of private efforts to secure the release, two U.S. law enforcement officials said. It’s not known whether any ransom was paid, the officials said.

Curtis’ release comes just five days after ISIS militants released a video of one of its militants beheading American journalist James Foley.

“Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home after so much time held in the clutches of (al-Nusra Front),” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

Author and journalist

CNN obtained two videos that appear to have been recorded during the late stages of Curtis’ captivity. In one, a gun is pointed at his head and Curtis speaks rapidly as if under duress.

He gives his name, the date and says he is a journalist from Boston.

Curtis is an author and freelance reporter who writes under the name Theo Padnos.

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.

“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,” his mother said.

She added: “Theo has a deep concern and regard for the people of Syria, which is why he returned during the war. He wanted to help others and to give meaning and to bear witness to their struggles.

“I am very fortunate that I do not have to tell his whole story. He eventually will be able to do so himself.”

Former cellmate speaks

In August, CNN spoke to Curtis’ former cellmate in Syria, Matthew Schrier. They were locked up together in six prisons before Schrier broke free by climbing through a window.

“I took apart the screen, pushed the sandbags aside and I got stuck, around my waist so I had to reach in. I unbuckled my pants and as soon as I unbuckled my pants I shot right out,” Schrier said.

Curtis wasn’t as lucky. He got stuck. Schrier said he tried to get Curtis out, but he simply didn’t fit and so Schrier left, promising to get help.

“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” Schrier said.

“It’s hard to move on because he’s still there. You know, it hasn’t ended yet 100%,” he said then. “I’m not going to have closure until he’s home.”

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