US: Syrian government releases American citizen


WASHINGTON (AP) – The Syrian government has released an American citizen who was captured and detained after entering the war-wracked country about four years ago, the State Department said Friday.

Spokesman Mark Toner declined to identify the American due to privacy considerations, but U.S. officials told The Associated Press that he is Kevin Patrick Dawes, a 33-year-old freelance photographer from San Diego who was abducted in 2012.

Toner, who described the U.S. citizen as a “detainee,” not a “hostage,” said he was released in the past few days and is no longer in Syria.

He said he believed Dawes was released in the Syrian capital of Damascus, but said he could not say why he was detained or whether he is now in the United States.

Toner thanked Czech officials who represent U.S. diplomatic interests in Syria for helping the United States gain access to Dawes and seek his release. U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly, said Dawes was turned over to authorities from Russia, which has been backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war that now is in its sixth year.

“We are appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian government that it undertook on behalf of this U.S. citizen,” Toner said, declining to characterize what role the Russians played in the release.

“I can’t speak to the logistics,” Toner said, adding that the Czechs offered the consular support on the ground that American officials would have wanted to provide.

He said the U.S. continues to work through the Czech officials in Syria to get information on the welfare and whereabouts of Austin Tice and unknown number of other U.S. citizens missing or detained in Syria. Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria’s civil war. A video released a month later showed the journalist, blindfolded and held by armed men, saying, “Oh, Jesus.” He had not been heard from since then.

Asked if the U.S. dealt directly with Syrian officials in seeking the release of Dawes, Toner said only that: “We have also been in direct periodic contact with the Syrian government regarding consular issues in general and American citizens detained in Syria.”

Toner said he was not aware that the Syrian government received anything in exchange for freeing the U.S. citizen.

“I’m not aware that there was any tit-for-tat exchange,” he said.

The Washington Post first reported the release of Dawes and quoted FBI officials as saying that he was taken after crossing into Syria from Turkey. The Post said Dawes recently was permitted to call his family and receive packages.

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