In this essay, I discuss curious case of journalist Theo Padnos, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria in 2012 and held for 22 months before he was finally released. Having survived a kidnapping in Iraq myself, I have followed the case of Padnos, and those of other Western hostages taken during the Syrian conflict, with great interest. What is curious about Padnos’ case is that US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford knew where Padnos was being held captive, had the opportunity to try to save him, and yet appears to have been indifferent to doing so.
Padnos entered Syria in the fall of 2012 with what he thought were rebels from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Once inside Syria, the men revealed themselves to be members of al-Qaeda in Syria, known as the Nusra Front (hereafter, Nusra). Padnos was held captive for 22 months by Nusra. He managed to escape twice, seeking refuge with the FSA, only to have the FSA return him to his Nusra captors. FSA groups and the Nusra Front have collaborated closely throughout the Syria war. Padnos’ captors held him for a period in a children’s hospital in Aleppo and tortured Padnos at various times throughout his lengthy captivity. Padnos was finally freed in August 2014, through the efforts of the Qatari government, which is a strong backer of Nusra.