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American hostages renew focus on U.S. ransom policy

August 27, 2014 at 6:15 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now we will take a closer look at some of the victims of Muslim extremists, Americans who have been taken hostage.

Jeffrey Brown take a look tonight at the long, complicated and often unsuccessful process of bringing them home.

JEFFREY BROWN: American journalist Peter Theo Curtis spoke publicly for the first time since he was released in Syria on Sunday.

PETER THEO CURTIS, Freed Journalist: I have learned bit by bit that there have been literally hundreds of people, brave, determined and big-hearted people all over the world, working for my release. They have been working for two years on this.

I had no idea when I was in prison. I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf. And now, having found out, I am just overwhelmed with emotion.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 45-year old Curtis spent 22 months in captivity, held by the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate. His freedom came days after a video was released showing James Foley, another American journalist, beheaded by Islamic State militants.

They also threatened to kill 31-year-old journalist Steven Sotloff unless the U.S. halted airstrikes against their forces in Iraq.

Today, in her own video, Sotloff’s mother appealed directly to the Islamic State’s leader.

All of this has renewed focus on the U.S. refusal to pay ransoms for the return of hostages, a policy that differs from many European countries. It’s also been reported that Islamic State is holding yet another American, a 26-year-old female aid worker.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF: As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Mohammed, who protected people of the book. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children’s children. I plead with you to grant me this.