The Syrian government has freed an American freelance photographer who was abducted after traveling to the country in 2012, according to two U.S. officials.
Kevin Patrick Dawes, 33, from San Diego, was released following months of negotiations, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details of Dawes’s release have not yet been made public.
In a separate case, Oman released a statement that another U.S. citizen — this one held by Yemeni rebels in Sanaa — had also been freed. Officials declined to identify the American.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry was personally involved in winning Dawes’s release, which took place in the past few days, according to a State Department official. Another official said the Syrians handed Dawes over to Russian authorities, who then flew him out of Syria. Russia has been one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s biggest backers.
Officials said the Czech Republic, which represents U.S. interests in Syria, played a role in talks with the Syrians. The United States closed its embassy in Damascus in 2012 as the war intensified.
Dawes had been allowed in recent months to call his family and receive care packages, a signal that the Syrian government was moving toward releasing him, officials said.
Dawes’s case drew little attention in the media, but his release is believed to be a positive sign in potentially securing the freedom of freelance journalist Austin Tice, another U.S. hostage and a former U.S. Marine who disappeared in Syria in 2012. Tice had been contributing articles to The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other news outlets.
The Syrian government has never acknowledged detaining Tice, but U.S. officials believe the government or a group affiliated with it is holding him.
“The [Daweses’] private, painful ordeal is finally over. We are delighted for Kevin & his family,” said a statement from a Twitter account associated with the Tice family.
Dawes’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
State Department spokesman John Kirby on Friday confirmed that an American had been released.
“While privacy considerations prevent us from commenting further, we continue to work through our Czech protecting power in Syria to get information on the welfare and whereabouts of Austin Tice and other U.S. citizens missing and detained in Syria,” Kirby said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of U.S. persons.”
Dawes was taken after crossing into Syria from Turkey, according to the FBI. This wasn’t the first time he had gone to a conflict zone.
In June 2011, he traveled to Libya as a medical aid worker but then fought alongside forces battling Moammar Gaddafi’s government. Dawes said the Libyan government had been targeting medical workers. “It was at that point we decided we had no choice,” he told NPR in an interview in 2011 from Libya. “It was either this or perish from here.”
Dawes told NPR that at one point in Libya he started carrying a rifle and began working as a “counter-sniper.” He said he was never in the U.S. military but had 10 years of experience as a trained marksman.
In the interview, Dawes described his reasons for being in Libya. “See the world, experience new things, get in way over my head, but, you know, ultimately survive,” he said.
Carol Morello contributed to this report.