There are more than 30 U.S. citizens who are currently being held hostage or are being detained outside the United States, the White House said this week, following the announcement of new hostage policies that could make it easier for families to pay ransoms to help free their loved ones. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 80 Americans have been taken hostage by terrorist or pirate groups, the White House added. Here’s a few of the U.S. citizens who are still being held overseas. Click on parts of the photograph to learn more:
Aban Elias, of Denver, Colorado, was working as a civil engineer in Baghdad when he was taken hostage on May 3, 2004. A few days after his capture, he appeared on the Arabic television network Al-Arabiya saying: “I was kidnapped, and I call upon the Muslim Association to interfere, kindly.”
Al-Arabiya said it received the video from a group calling itself the Islamic Anger Brigade, which claims to have taken Elias hostage, CNN reported at the time. His family and friends said he was near Fallujah working with a relative on road projects. Elias has a wife and three sons.
Following the news of his capture, his family begged for Elias’s release. His mother said Elias a good Muslim and has nothing to do with politics, CNN reported. In 2011, his brother Kazwan Elias told the New York Times that they are still unaware of whether he is alive or dead.
Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati was arrested in Iran in 2011 after he traveled there to visit his ailing grandmother for two weeks. He was arrested by Iranian intelligence officials just days before he was to return to start school at the University of Michigan, according to the website FreeAmir.org.
In Jan. 2012, Hekmati was charged with espionage, waging war against God, and corrupting the earth, and was sentenced to death in January of 2012, FreeAmir.org said. His death sentence was later overturned by a higher court citing insufficient evidence and a new trial was ordered. Hekmati was then tried in a secret in Dec. 2013, neither Hekmati or his attorney were notified of the trial and were not allowed to present a defense. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the charge of “cooperating with hostile governments,” the website said.
Hekmati was born in Arizona and grew up in Nebraska and Michigan. He joined the Marines in 2001 and served as an infantry rifleman where he served honorably in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His father is currently battling brain cancer in the United States, and fears that he will never see his son again, FreeAmir.org said.
Armando Torres, III
U.S. Marine reservist Armando Torres III was kidnapped on May 14, 2013, along with his father and uncle by armed men in La Barranca, Tamaulipas, Mexico, the FBI said.
Torres III is a U.S. Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His father Armando Torres II and his uncle Salvador Torres, are Mexican citizens. The FBI said Torres, III drove across the international port of entry bridge in Progresso, Texas to visit his father. Shortly after he arrived at his father’s ranch, armed gunmen entered and took the three family members by force.
They have not been seen or heard from since.
A month after his disappearance, his sister Cristina Torres told The Monitor newspaper that her family has not given up hope he will be found alive.
“We are doing all we can to get my brother back,” Cristina Torres said. “We will continue to do all we can.”
Journalist Austin Tice was kidnapped in Syria in August 2012. Born and raised in Texas, Tice traveled to Syria as a freelancer hoping to tell the story of the ongoing conflict there, his family’s website said. He was to attend his final year at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C. in that fall.
“He filed his last story and planned to leave to Lebanon Aug 14,  three days after his 31st birthday. We believe he got into a car but never made it to the border,” the website said.
Weeks later, a video emerged showing Tice being held by apparent jihadists, with a title that read: “Austin Tice is Alive,” the website said.
“This is the only information we have received from his captors,” the family website said. “No one has contacted us to claim responsibility, because of this, we cannot say for certain who is holding him.”
Tice’s parents have applauded Obama’s new ransom policy. In an interview with CBS this week, they said they would have coped better with the kidnapping of their son had a policy been in place when he was taken. The family is still working to get him released, but that they believe he is alive.
American Caitlin Coleman was kidnapped in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband on Oct. 13, 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan. At the time of the kidnapping she was pregnant and it’s believed she gave birth while in captivity.
The couple were seen on two videos in 2014 and said they were being held by the Taliban and plead for their governments to help them, the Daily Beast reported.
The videos reportedly were first emailed to Coleman’s father by an Afghan man who claimed to have connections to the Taliban, the Daily Beast said.
“I would ask that my family and my government do everything they can to bring my husband, my child and I to safety and freedom,” Coleman said in the video, ABC News reported.
The family has been held ever since and efforts to win their release have so far failed, U.S. officials told the Daily Beast.
Dean Sadek was kidnapped on Nov. 2004. The Charlotte, North Carolina resident was serving as a contractor in Iraq at the time of his abduction. A video released after his kidnapping shows him in front of a green wall carrying a U.S. passport and identification card for Dean Sadek.
The kidnapping was claimed to be in the name of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a known insurgent group, Al-Jazeera reported at the time.
Neighbors said they often saw his wife and young child playing outside their home, WSOC TV reported.
Someone who said Sadek was her former brother in law wrote on The Jawa Report that he was a kind and giving individual “who loves his two sons dearly.”
“If he loses his life he would be one more of the heroes to win freedom for others. I am totally devasted everyday not knowing what will happen to him besides his immediate family and children,” she wrote.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian authorities on July 22, 2014, and has been held ever since for alleged spying. He was serving as the Post’s bureau chief in Tehran when he was arrested.
In January, Iran’s official news agency quoted a prosecutor saying Rezaian was indicted and will stand trial.
In Sept. 2014, CCTV America’s Asieh Namdar interviewed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and asked him when Rezaian would be released.
At the time, Zarif said he knew Rezaian and that he had tried to help expedite the process of investigation in this case, but cautioned that the Iranian judiciary is “totally independent” from the executive branch of the government.
He said the prosecutor’s office was currently investigating him for allegations that Zarif was not privy to.
“I hope that he can be cleared of all the charges and he can be released soon,” Zarif told CCTV America.
Jeffrey Akem of LaPorte, Indiana, was kidnapped in Iraq on April 11, 2005. He was in Iraq to assist in the reconstruction effort as a private citizen, the website Jeffake.com said.
Ake and his wife, Lilly, ran a packaging equipment company and Ake was installing his company’s equipment in an Iraqi water bottling plant when armed gunmen kidnapped him. A day later, a video was released showing Ake held by hooded and armed captors, the website said.
In spite of work by the FBI, military intelligence, and other groups, there is no information about Jeff’s current status. He is the father of four children.
In April, in response to a query from CBS Chicago, the State Department said that out of concern for the safety of hostages and the privacy of their families, it doesn’t comment on ongoing cases.
Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson was working as a private investigator when he traveled to Kish Island, Iran on March 8, 2007. He has not been seen or heard from publicly since he disappeared the following day. In 2010, a video showing him in captivity was sent to the Levinson family by his captors.
Despite a lengthy investigation, the U.S. government has no evidence of who is holding him, the Associated Press reported.
In 2012, the FBI announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to his safe recovery and return.
“We are committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family. We hope this reward will encourage anyone with information — no matter how insignificant they may think it is — to come forward,” said James W. McJunkin, assistant director at the FBI Washington Field Office.
Levinson has a wife of 37 years and is the father of seven.
Saeed Abedini, a pastor and father of two, was arrested on Sept. 25, 2012 in Iran and later sentenced to eight years for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches, the American Center for Law and Justice said.
“This is a real travesty – a mockery of justice… Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights.” Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ, who represents Pastor Saeed’s wife and children living in the U.S., said in a statement, FOX News reported.
The U.S. State Department condemned the sentence saying Abedini’s attorney had only one day to present his defense, Reuters reported.
Story compiled with information from the Associated Press and Reuters.