JOINVILLE-LE-PONT, France – The overjoyed father of the American journalist freed by Islamic militants said Monday that his son and others who venture into dangerous lands like Syria deserve praise for wanting to “bear witness … tell the truth about what’s going on.”
Michael Padnos, who lives on a boat outside Paris, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the interminable search and wait for his son had been like “hunting for bats in a dark, black cave.”
Theo Padnos spoke to his mother in Boston Sunday night “for less than a minute” but said he was “happy to be back in the civilized world and see some girls,” according to the father’s account.
An unidentified American with the journalist initially spoke with Padnos’ mother, Nancy Curtis, but told her that “he is too upset to talk … right now.” He called her in the evening, according to the father.
It wasn’t clear when Padnos would return home to Boston. He was apparently in Tel Aviv, where he was driven after being released Sunday in the Golan Heights, a week after the beheading of another American journalist, James Foley, an act that was videotaped and posted on the Internet.
His family said they believe their son was captured in October 2012, shortly after crossing into Syria.
He was held by Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The al-Qaida-linked group is fighting the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
Michael Padnos brushed aside delays in his son’s return.
“They say they’re going to bring him back when he’s ready to travel,” Padnos said.
“The main thing is he’s safe … That’s the only thing that counts for me,” he said, calling his son Theophilus, his birth name.
Theo Padnos changed his name to Peter Theo Curtis before leaving for Syria some two years ago for safety reasons, his father said, noting he had written a book “Undercover Muslim” after investigating the secretive Islamist world in Yemen, pretending to be a deeply religious Muslim.
The journalist’s father said the risky life of his son, whom he described as an “itinerant journalist,” made him fearful.
But “you can only respect those people (journalists) for doing it.”
“Your heart’s in your mouth while you bite your tongue … but it’s noble and worthy” to do as his son did, he said.
Beyond the relief and the joy, questions remain, notably how Padnos was freed, and whether ransom in any form was involved. It is a U.S. policy not to pay ransom.
Michael Padnos said Qatar’s involvement was crucial.
“The government that has been the intermediary in this has been Qatar, and Qatar has said that they had him released on a humanitarian basis without the payment of any ransom,” Padnos said. “I don’t know any more than that.”
Betsy Sullivan, a cousin of Curtis, said earlier other intermediaries involved in negotiations threatened the family and made ransom demands of varying amounts. The family said that Qatari representatives assured them that no money was paid out.
Foley’s Islamic State captors had demanded $132.5 million (100 million euros) from his parents and political concessions from Washington. Neither obliged, authorities say.
The journalist’s father praised the U.S. government and other nations who helped procure freedom for his son. He wished the same outcome for dozens of others held captive in Syria and elsewhere.
“It’s just a very chaotic situation over there. There’s no clear lines of authority. There are no clear people in charge. It’s unclear what’s going on. That’s what is so awful about the last two years,” he said. “You know, I felt as if I was hunting for bats in a dark black cave.”