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American Held Captive in Syria Is Released
Kevin Patrick Dawes, an American citizen who vanished into war-ravaged Syria from southern Turkey nearly four years ago, has been released by the Syrian authorities, a senior United States government official said Friday.
State Department officials said the governments of both Russia and the Czech Republic had helped secure the release of Mr. Dawes. They also said they were continuing to seek information about Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who has not been seen in four years and who is believed to be the only other missing American in Syria.
"We can confirm and welcome the news that a U.S. citizen was released by Syrian authorities," the State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said in a statement. "The United States continues to work through every possible means to ensure the safe release of U.S. citizens reported missing or taken hostage in Syria."
Mr. Dawes, 33, who grew up in Renton, Wash., and lived in San Diego, is described by an F.B.I. missing-person's notice as a freelance photographer. Journalists who met him while covering the conflicts in Libya and Syria knew him better for what they described as his war-zone adventurism.
In Moscow on Friday, the Russian foreign ministry appeared to allude to that adventurism. In a statement taking credit for securing Mr. Dawes' release, the foreign ministry said Mr. Dawes was "transferred to Moscow in a military plane and handed over to U.S. Embassy representatives," the French news agency AFP reported. The statement noted, pointedly: "We hope he doesn't put himself in a similar situation again and that Washington will appreciate Damascus' gesture."
During the early months of the conflict in Libya, he introduced himself as a freelance journalist, and for a time worked with Libyan medics. By the end of that conflict, he often was seen carrying a rifle near the rebel front lines, or directing traffic at rebel checkpoints.
James Harkin, a journalist and author who profiled Mr. Dawes in an article published by GQ in January, wrote that he had met him in southern Turkey just before his disappearance in Syria in September 2012. Mr. Harkin wrote that Mr. Dawes seemed to consider himself part of a growing community of freelance journalists who had done reporting in Libya and now wanted to enter Syria.
"But while most of these new arrivals were real reporters earning their spurs, there was a worrying new development — the presence of adrenaline-junkies, adventurers, fantasists or crazy narcissists who shouldn't have been in Libya or Syria in the first place," Mr. Harkin wrote. "Professional journalists quickly got to hear about them too, and one of them was Dawes."
Eliot Higgins, a blogger who founded Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website, said he had spoken to Mr. Dawes 24 hours before he vanished in Syria, and described his behavior as irrational and erratic. Mr. Higgins said he had first started speaking with Mr. Dawes during the Libya conflict, when Mr. Dawes had recorded footage of warfare. Mr. Higgins also said Mr. Dawes seemed obsessed with going to Syria. "He sold everything he had, and went into debt and scrapped money for a ticket," Mr. Higgins said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group in New York, has not included Mr. Dawes in its list of roughly 25 journalists that are known to be missing in Syria, most of them presumed kidnapped or killed. At least six foreigners, including Mr. Tice, are among the missing. The other foreigners include three Spaniards, a Japanese, and a Briton, John Cantlie, a captive of the Islamic State militant group, who has been used in its propaganda videos.
Mr. Cantlie was seized by the Islamic State along with James Foley, an American journalist who was last seen in Syria in November 2012 and was beheaded by the group in August 2014. Another American journalist held hostage by the Islamic State, Steven Sotloff, was beheaded the following month.
Jason Stern, the committee's senior research associate for the Middle East and North Africa, said Mr. Dawes was not included because "we have no evidence that he went to Syria to report as a journalist."
Mr. Stern also said Syria remained the most dangerous place for journalists, who are vulnerable to kidnapping for reasons that include ransom, reporting regarded as unfavorable and other political motives. The problem is aggravated, he said, by foreigners in Syria who describe themselves as journalists but are partisans.
"We've seen a blurring of the lines between those working as journalists and those getting involved with fighting groups," he said. "The more this gets blurred, the more dangerous it becomes for journalists."
Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Moscow last month for meetings with President Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, has been working with his Russian counterparts to try to find a political resolution to the war in Syria, even as the Pentagon has been conducting airstrikes against Islamist State targets on the ground there. While Russia is a backer of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Moscow has also come under pressure from United States officials to encourage Mr. Assad to release any Americans being held by Syrian authorities.
A United States official said that Mr. Dawes, in recent months, has been allowed to call his family and receive care packages, in what officials took as a sign that the Syrian government might release him soon.
The Washington Post first reported the release of Mr. Dawes on Friday. The F.B.I. missing-person's bulletin says that Mr. Dawes traveled to Syria in September 2012 and that the last known contact with him was in October 2012.
Telephone messages left with Mr. Dawes's relatives in Renton were not immediately answered.
[Source: By Rick Gladstone and Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times, 08Apr16]
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