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Syria releases U.S. citizen captured while trying to visit every country in the world

Qamishli, Syria. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)

Syrian officials have released a U.S. citizen they had held captive for two months, his family said Friday.

Sam Goodwin, 30, was last seen by a security camera May 25 heading from the Assia hotel in the city of Qamishli toward a regime-controlled neighborhood, according to a Kurdish security official. Goodwin had crossed the border from Iraq into northeast Syria hours earlier as part of an attempt to visit every country in the world.

Lebanon’s security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, intervened to secure Goodwin’s release, his parents, Thomas and Ann Goodwin, said in a statement. They wrote that they were grateful to be reunited with their son, who they said was healthy.

“We are forever indebted to Lebanese General Abbas Ibrahim and to all others who helped secure the release of our son,” the Goodwins wrote. “We will have more to say at a later date. Right now, we appreciate our privacy as we reconnect with Sam.”

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Northeast Syria, which is controlled by the U.S.-allied Kurds, is the safest part of the country. But the Syrian government is in charge of an airport there and neighborhoods in two major cities. Several foreigners who have strayed into the regime-controlled areas have been arrested in recent years.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime probably has more American hostages than any other country or nonstate entity, The Washington Post previously reported. Officials estimate that there are about six, although the exact number is classified.

Among the missing is freelance journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in 2012 after he was detained at a Syrian checkpoint while working in a rebel-held area near Damascus. His parents, Debra and Marc Tice, have said that authorities working on his case believe their son is alive.

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Syrian American therapist Majd Kamalmaz is also believed to be in the custody of the Syrian government. His family went public about his case in January and held a rally in front of the White House to raise awareness.

As The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin previously reported:

The names of the other Syrian Americans believed to be held by the Assad regime are kept secret in accordance with their families’ wishes. And while each story is unique and information about them is scarce, the FBI, State Department and other agencies are all engaged in trying to track them down and bring them home.

An American has also died in Syrian captivity. Layla Shweikani of Illinois is believed to have been tortured and executed after she traveled to her ancestral homeland in 2015 to deliver humanitarian aid during the nation’s civil war.

Shane Harris contributed to this report.

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