Monday, August 25, 2014

Qatar is close ally of both the Obama administration and Al Qaeda unit that held journalist Curtis-NY Times

8/25/14, "U.S. Says It Told Qatar Not to Pay a Ransom," NY Times, Peter Baker

"The Obama administration said Monday that it brought the family of the American hostage Peter Theo Curtis together with the government of Qatar in an effort to secure his release, but insisted that it told the Qataris not to pay a ransom for the captured journalist.

White House and State Department officials denied any greater American role in the surprise liberation of Mr. Curtis on Sunday but did little to shed further light on the secret machinations that led to his freedom. Qatar is a close American ally that also has strong ties to the Nusra Front, a Qaeda affiliate that had been holding Mr. Curtis for nearly two years.

The role of the U.S. government in this situation was to facilitate a conversation between Mr. Curtis’s family and the Qatari government, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “And from there, the Qatari government pursued through their established relationships a conversation with the individuals who were holding Mr. Curtis, and they secured his release.”

Mr. Earnest said American officials discouraged Qatar from offering money, although the energy-rich Persian Gulf emirate has been known for arranging other hostage releases in exchange for millions of dollars. “The United States government certainly did not ask the Qataris to pay a ransom,” Mr. Earnest said. “In fact, we asked the Qataris, consistent with our longstanding policy, to not pay a ransom for Mr. Curtis.”

American officials said they did not offer anything else of value for Mr. Curtis, but they did not rule out the possibility that the Qataris had done so in the interest of furthering relations with the United States. Instead, officials pointed to a statement from Mr. Curtis’s family reporting that Qatar told them that it did not pay a ransom.

Mr. Curtis’s case fueled discussion about disparate policies toward hostages taken by terrorist groups in the Middle East. While the United States officially refuses to pay ransoms, some European countries do. A recent New York Times investigation concluded that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had taken in more than $125 million in ransoms from European governments over the last five years.

James Foley, another American journalist held by a separate extremist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, was beheaded in a video released last week after his captors made unmet demands for money. More than a dozen Europeans held in the same cell where Mr. Foley had been imprisoned have been freed for ransoms averaging more than $2.5 million each, according to former hostages and others involved....

Mr. Curtis, 45, a freelance journalist, was traveling in Turkey near the Syria border in the fall of 2012 when he was last heard from. American officials said they contacted two dozen countries seeking their assistance in winning his freedom. While ISIS continues to hold several other Americans, government officials said Mr. Curtis was the only American known to be held by the Nusra Front.

Mr. Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Sunday. After a medical checkup, he was transferred to American officials who brought him to Tel Aviv, where he remained on Monday and was receiving medical evaluation. “He appears to be in good health,” Ms. Psaki said."

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