American photographer missing since 2012 released by Syrian government

An American freelance photographer who was abducted in Syria back in 2012 has now been released by the Syrian government, the US State Department announced on Friday.

The photographer’s identity has not been officially released, but the Washington Post reported that his name is Kevin Patrick Dawes, a 33-year-old man from San Diego, California.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed in a statement that an American had been freed and turned over to authorities from Russia, which has supported the Syrian government over the years and helped secure Dawes’ release.

“We can confirm and welcome the news that a US citizen was released by Syrian authorities,” Kirby said, according to Fox News. “The United States continues to work through every possible means to ensure the safe release of US citizens reported missing or taken hostage in Syria.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Dawes’ release was made possible after “a personal request for assistance” was made by US President Barack Obama asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to help in searching for missing Americans. The Syrians released the US citizen on humanitarian grounds after receiving an appeal from Moscow, the Ministry said.

“We are appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian government that it undertook on behalf of this US citizen in Syria,” added State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Dawes disappeared after entering Syria from Turkey in September of 2012, according to the FBI. The Syrian government never confirmed that it was holding the American, though US officials believed that either Damascus or an affiliated group had detained him, the Post reported.

Securing Dawes’ release took months of negotiations, which were complicated by the fact that the US had closed its embassy in Syria back in 2012 because of the ongoing conflict there. The State Department reportedly negotiated with the Syrians through diplomats of the Czech Republic, though it’s unknown if any direct negotiations ever took place.

Dawes’ release may be a sign that other Americans that have been detained in Syria, including a journalist named Austin Tice, may be released in the future.

“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 US citizens missing and detained in Syria,” Kirby said. “We appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of US persons.”

Interestingly, Dawes had been in the middle of another warzone about a year prior to going to Syria, when he worked in Libya in 2011 as a medic for the Libyan rebels who were trying to overthrow ruler Muammar Gaddafi. He claimed in an interview with NPR that he eventually took up arms and joined them in their fight after seeing Gaddafi’s troops attacking medical workers.