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Peter Theo Curtis

Peter Theo Curtis (a.k.a. Theo Padnos; born 1968) is an American journalist who was released by the al-Nusra Front in August 2014, after being held hostage for almost two years. He was the cellmate of American war photographer Matt Schrier, who escaped after seven months of captivity.[1]

Peter Theo Curtis
Peter Theophilus Eaton Padnos

1968 (age 50–51)
Other namesTheo Padnos
Peter Curtis
Alma materMiddlebury College
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
OccupationJournalist, writer and teacher
Parent(s)Michael Padnos (father)
Nancy Curtis (mother)

Early life and careerEdit

Peter Theophilus Eaton Padnos was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Michael Padnos, a writer now living in Paris (then he worked as a lawyer), and Nancy Curtis.[2][3][4] He received his bachelor's degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and his doctorate in comparative literature from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.[5][6] He fluently speaks French, Arabic, German, and Russian.[7][8]

He moved to Vermont and taught poetry to prisoners of a local jail. His first book, My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun, was written about this experience. In this book he firstly shows his interest in writing about disaffected youth.[8][9] He then relocated to Yemen, where he changed his legal name to Peter Theo Curtis, under which he continued writing.[10] Padnos began his study of Islam in Yemen at Dar al-Hadith,[11] before moving to Damascus, Syria, to enroll in an Islamic religious school.[12] His second book, Undercover Muslim, where he highlights the topic of Islamic extremism, was published in the UK. After its publication, changing of his name (to Peter Theo Curtis) made his travel in the Middle East easier.[13][14] Since he had declared allegiance to Islam in public, the book could be interpreted as apostasy.[11] In 2012, he became a freelance journalist. He created articles about the Middle East for magazines such as the New Republic, The Huffington Post and the London Review of Books.[15]

He then moved to Antakya, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Although Curtis originally claimed in his NY Times article that he went to Syria to "stop into villages and interview people, telling the story of a nation with many identities, dissatisfied with them all, in trouble, wanting help," [12] he later completely changed his story in his documentary, claiming he was there to "follow some refugees back into Syria and write about the adverse conditions in the camps." [16] However, in his former cellmate's book, "The Dawn Prayer," Matthew Schrier claims Curtis told him he was in Syria to write a story about abducted American journalist Austin Tice, and provided documentation proving so in the form of an email Curtis wrote to Tice's editor shortly before he was kidnapped asking him to "commission" the article.

Abduction and imprisonmentEdit

Curtis was held in a series of prisons run by Syrian rebel groups with ties to Al Qaeda. His family was asked to pay a ransom of an amount of money between $3 million and $25 million.[17] According to his account of his captivity published in The New York Times Magazine on November 2, 2014, he was held by al-Nusra Front and later by Abu Mariya al-Qahtani, who also released him.[12]

Curtis considers himself "most responsible" for his kidnapping, believing he was reckless in crossing into Syria with smugglers he did not know and who held him captive. Commenting on the torture and mistreatment he endured at first, he says,

It seemed to me that I had been walking calmly through an olive grove with Syrian friends, that a rent in the earth had opened, that I had fallen into the darkness and woken in a netherworld, the kind found in myths or nightmares.[12]

Curtis said that he escaped twice, each time seeking refuge with the Free Syrian Army, and that both times they delivered him back to the Al Nusra Front.[18]


Relatives were not told the terms of Curtis's release, which came one week after James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State. A team led by editor David G. Bradley[11] and the Padnos family contacted Ghanem Khalifa al-Kubaisi, head of Qatar State Security, who mediated for Curtis's release and according to what it told the Padnos family it was "on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money".[19] The kidnappers had demanded ransom reaching 22 million euros.[11] Curtis states that he was released to the UN mission in the Golan Heights.[12]

A documentary about Curtis' time in captivity was released in 2016.[20]

In 2018 Curtis was featured on the National Geographic television show Locked Up Abroad in the episode 'Escape from Al Qaeda'.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sly, Liz; Goldman, Adam. "U.S. hostage Peter Theo Curtis is freed after nearly two years in Syria". Washington Post. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  2. ^ Fieldstadt, Elisha; Welker, Kristen (August 24, 2014). "Peter Theo Curtis Freed After Two Years in Captivity". NBC News. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  3. ^ Westcott, Lucy (August 27, 2014). "Freed U.S. Journalist Peter Theo Curtis Comes Home to Boston". Newsweek. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  4. ^ Ganley, Elaine; Schaeffer, Jeffrey (August 25, 2014). "Freed US reporter's father praises son's noble cause". The Republican. Associated Press. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  5. ^ Rukimini Callimachi (August 24, 2014). "U.S. Writer Held by Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Is Freed After Nearly 2 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  6. ^ Bender, Bryan; Adams, Dan (August 24, 2014). "Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  7. ^ Lawrence Crook III; Ray Sanchez (August 27, 2014). "Freed journalist Curtis back in the U.S." Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Ford, Dana; Almasy, Steve (August 25, 2014). "American held in Syria for almost two years is released". Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "American writer, held captive in Syria since 2012, released into Golan Heights". Jerusalem Post. Reuters. August 25, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d Wright, Lawrence (July 6, 2015). "Five Hostages". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e Padnos, Theo (October 29, 2014). "My Captivity". New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  13. ^ "US hostage in Syria freed after two years in captivity". The National. August 24, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  14. ^ Bayoumy, Yara; Ortiz, Fiona (August 24, 2014). "Kidnappers free American missing in Syria since 2012". Reuters. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Rukmini Callimachi (August 24, 2014). "U.S. Writer Held by Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Is Freed After Nearly 2 Years". New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  18. ^ Revaz, Philippe (November 27, 2014). "Theo Padnos: "Ce gars qui m'a torturé, j'ai son contact sur Skype"" (in French). Radio Télévision Suisse. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  19. ^ Ackerman, Spencer (August 24, 2014). "US denies paying ransom as Qatar secures release of journalist in Syria". The Guardian. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  20. ^ Marcelo, Philip (September 5, 2016). "Journalist recounts years as Syrian prisoner in documentary (Escaping al-Qaeda)". Washington Post and Taipei Times. Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.

External linksEdit