US journalist held in Syria released by al-Qaeda-linked group: reports

US journalist held in Syria released by al-Qaeda-linked group: reports
© Twitter: Bilal Abdul Kareem

A U.S.-born journalist who moved to northern Syria nearly a decade ago to cover the country's civil war was released from custody by al Qaeda-linked militants on Wednesday after more than six months in detention.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Bilal Abdul Kareem, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., was released by militants belonging to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group that controls territory in Syria's Idlib Province. The report cited Syrian opposition media and a statement from the militant group.

The conditions of Kareem's release "remain unclear," the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday. CPJ said it has been told that Kareem "was well."

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"CPJ welcomes his release and calls on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to allow journalists to do their job freely and without fear of retaliation," the statement read.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formed in early 2017, combined the al Qaeda spinoff Al-Nusra Front with a number of other militant groups in the region and now exists as a hardline Salafist group in control of territory across parts of Idlib Province.

The State Department told The Hill in a statement that it was aware of reports of Kareem's release but that it had no other information to offer at this time.

"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State," the statement read."

Kareem has not commented publicly on his Twitter or his official Facebook page since reports of his release surfaced.

Kareem was initially imprisoned in August after filing media reports detailing accounts of torture in the militia group's prisons. Masked gunmen reportedly abducted the reporter and his driver in the middle of the street.

“It’s shameful for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to snatch a journalist and his driver in the middle of the street and take them to an unknown location without explaining why,” the CPJ said at the time of his detention. “We call on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to release Bilal Abdul-Kareem and Mohammad al-Homsi immediately and let journalists do their job freely and without fear of reprisal.”