The Syrian government has freed an American freelance photographer who was kidnapped after traveling to the embattled country in 2012, the Washington Post reported Friday, citing two U.S. officials. Kevin Patrick Dawes’ release could be a positive sign in securing the freedom of American journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria that same year.
Dawes, 33, was captured after crossing into Syria from Turkey, the FBI said. He was freed following months of negotiations, but it’s unclear if American officials spoke directly with the Syrian regime or through an intermediary. The San Diego native was recently allowed to speak with his family and receive care packages, the U.S. officials told the newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details of Dawes’ release have not yet been made public.
Dawes’ disappearance drew little media attention, but the Washington Post said his release is believed to be a positive sign the Syrian government is moving toward freeing Tice, a former U.S. Marine. The administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad has never acknowledged taking Tice, but U.S. officials say they believe he is detained by the regime or an affiliated group.
Syria has been embroiled in a brutal civil war since 2011 that has killed hundreds of thousands of people while creating nearly 5 million refugees. The conflict began as an anti-government uprising five years ago and has descended into a multifront war. The country has been carved up by Assad’s forces, armed groups, Kurdish fighters and other rebel militias. An American-led coalition intervened in 2014 and began striking targets of the Islamic State group, a Salafi-jihadist group that controls large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, launched Wednesday a string of attacks on the Syrian military in government-held areas near the capital of Damascus. The offensive comes as ISIS has struggled with major losses in recent months, including most recently Palmyra, which it captured last summer. Assad’s forces retook the ancient city last week. Since the height of its Islamic insurgency two years ago, ISIS has lost about 20 percent of its territory in Syria and 40 percent in Iraq.