As we discussed on yesterday’s edition of The Teri O’Brien Show, the government of Qatar has become well-known as a middleman for payment of ransoms to terrorist groups. When American writer Peter Theo Curtis was released yesterday after nearly two years held captive by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, eyebrows were raised, since it came so close on the heels of the murder of James Foley by ISIS. The U.S. government continues to deny that any ransom was involved, but the facts are still murky.
From The Guardian UK:
The US has unequivocally denied paying any money at all to the Syrian extremist group that until Sunday held an American journalist hostage.
Whatever prompted Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s chosen affiliate in Syria, to release Peter Theo Curtis, the government of Qatar, increasingly a regional power broker, was involved.
On Sunday a United Nations spokesman said the UN facilitated the handover of Curtis, which he said took place in Al Rafid village in the Golan Heights. The spokesman said Curtis was given a medical check-up and then handed over to US government representatives. …
On Sunday Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, told the Guardian the US remained committed to its prohibition on ransom payments.
“The US government does not make concessions to terrorists, which includes paying ransom. We did not do so in this case,” Harf said.
“We also do not support any third party paying ransom, and did not do so in this case. We are unequivocal in our opposition to paying ransom to terrorists.”
Asked what prompted Curtis’ release after 22 months in captivity, Harf said she would let “Nusra speak for itself”.
Harf said the State Department understood that Curtis’ release followed “a direct request from the Curtis family itself to the Qatari government for its assistance”.
Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia, maintains a weapons pipeline to Syrian resistance groups, flying cargo planes packed with small arms and shoulder-fired missiles to Turkey en route to the rebels. The weapons shipments provide the Qataris with a measure of influence amongst extremist groups the US formally considers terrorists and with whom it, formally at least, will not negotiate.
Qatar also served as the crucial middleman in the May trade of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, for five senior Taliban members detained at Guantánamo Bay.
The Curtis family issued a statement on Sunday, asking for news organizations to respect its privacy.
The statement said: “The Curtis family is deeply grateful to the governments of the United States and Qatar and to the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin.
“While the family is not privy to the exact terms that were negotiated, we were repeatedly told by representatives of the Qatari government that they were mediating for Theo’s release on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money.”
So what’s going on here? The State Department’s spokes Valley girl says the U.S. government didn’t pay anything, and that the family worked with Qatar. The family says they weren’t privy to the terms and that this guy was released for humanitarian reasons.
Clearly, we haven’t gotten the whole story. Stay tuned.