A Bit Of Good News From Syria

by Dish Staff

In contrast to the brutal murder of James Foley, another American journalist held captive in Syria since 2012 was released over the weekend by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra:

Peter Theo Curtis was handed over to UN peacekeepers in the village of al-Rafid, Quneitra, on Sunday. He has since been turned over to representatives from the US government after undergoing medical check-up, the UN said. Curtis’ family thanked both the governments of the US and Qatar, as well as others who helped negotiate his release. According to a statement from his family, Curtis was captured in October 2012 and was reportedly held by the al-Nusra Front or by splinter groups allied with the al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

Elias Groll takes a closer look at Qatar’s role in securing Curtis’s release, which he calls part of the Gulf kingdom’s “double game”:

The beheading of Foley marked an ugly turn in the Syrian civil war, one that has already been marked by awful brutality on all sides of the conflict. Qatar has played a role in fueling that violence, by funneling arms and weapons to Islamist groups. Some of those weapons have ended up in the hands of hard-line radicals. Qatar also provides a home for a handful of influential Islamist leaders, including the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, and Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi, an al Qaeda financier. At the same time, Qatar continues to serve as a vital ally of America in the region, playing host to key U.S. military installations and reveling in its role as a power broker.

Events like Foley’s execution inevitably upset the balance between Qatar’s competing impulses and force its leaders to compensate in one direction or another. Specifically, the gruesome beheading of Foley put intense pressure on the White House to answer for its efforts to secure his release — pressure that Qatar has now slightly relieved. Curtis’s sudden release provides Barack Obama’s administration with a piece of good news — and tangible evidence that Americans can be freed without Washington doling out ransoms.

Keating compares the treatment of Curtis and Foley to illustrate the longstanding, fundamental disagreement over tactics between al-Qaeda central and even more extreme rogue groups like ISIS:

The details of the deal have not been made public. According to the New York Times, Curtis’ family was told by Qatari mediators that no ransom was paid, though it seems likely the group received some concession for his release. Al-Qaida and its affiliates have turned the ransoming of Western hostages into quite a tidy business, taking in more than $125 million in revenue since 2008, mostly from European governments that are more willing than the U.S. or Britain to pay ransoms. Intercepted documents from al-Qaida leaders show how central this revenue has become to the network’s operations. [Jabhat al-]Nusra’s more pragmatic approach, a few days after an ISIS video that seemed deliberately evocative of Zarqawi-era beheadings, shows that the old disagreement over tactics still persists, and has only gotten more public since al-Qaida and ISIS formally severed ties earlier this year.