The mission to free American hostage Peter Theo Curtis from captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria was undertaken by Qatar's intelligence service and approved by the country's emir, according to a new report.
The Washington Post reported that the Persian Gulf nation had been working on securing Curtis's release for months at the request of the Obama administration. The oil-rich nation has been consulted by U.S. diplomats multiple times in recent months, most recently in an effort to secure a lasting cease-fire in the Gaza Strip by leveraging the Qataris' relationship with Hamas. In the case of Curtis's release, the U.S. reportedly hoped to use Qatari intelligence's contacts with the group Jabhat al-Nusrah, which held Curtis for 22 months following his abduction somewhere in northern Syria, to facilitate his release.
Curtis's surprise return to freedom has prompted questions about Jabhat al-Nusrah's motivation for doing so. On Monday, White House Press Secretary John Earnest said the Obama administration had told Qatar officials not to pay a ransom in exchange for Curtis's release, in keeping with longstanding U.S. policy. Earnest also cited a statement from Curtis's family saying that the Qataris had told them that they had not paid a ransom in exchange for the journalist's freedom.
A statement released by Qatar's Foreign Ministry Sunday said that it had made "relentless efforts" to secure Curtis's release "out of Qatar’s belief in the principles of humanity and its keenness on the lives of individuals and their right to freedom and dignity."
The Post reports that White House officials and Qatar's Persian Gulf neighbors believe that the emirate is also motivated by wanting to boost its status as a regional power.
The paper also reports that while Treasury Department officials say that Qatar's government no longer funds groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah, they do believe that a number of wealthy Qatari private citizens continue to raise funds for Islamist groups fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.