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Pompeo to families of Americans held abroad: Ransoms aren't worth the risk

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By Abigail Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to families of American citizen
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to families of American citizens held captive abroad on Tuesday.   -   Copyright  Alex Wong Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met privately with the families of Americans detained abroad Tuesday and urged them not to abandon hope.

Freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria in 2014.
Freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria in 2014.Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The State Department declined to share the names of those present but they included Deborah Tice, whose son Austin Tice has been held captive in Syria for more than six years; the daughter of Majd Kamalmaz, a 61-year-old psychotherapist from Arlington, Virginia, who has been missing in Syria since 2017; and Babak Namazi, whose father Baquer and brother Siamak are currently detained in Iran.

Pompeo said bringing their loved ones home was a priority for President Donald Trump.

But he reiterated that paying ransoms was not an option.

"Please remember that any payment to a terrorist or a terrorist regime gives money so that they can seize more of our people. We cannot accept that risk," Pompeo said. "You wouldn't ask that of us."

Unlike some other nations, the United States has a longstanding policy of not making concessions or paying ransoms in return for Americans held abroad.

The U.S. government has estimated terrorist groups collected $120 million in ransoms between 2005 and 2012 — with the Islamic State group collecting $20 million in 2014 alone.

"Many of you shared experiences today where you were frustrated that not enough is being done. I can understand how it might seem that way," Pompeo added during a speech after the private meeting. "I implore you don't give up, don't despair, we will not."

Relatives of James Foley, Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig and Steven Sotloff — all Americans killed in Syria by ISIS or at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's regime — also attended the event.

In 2014, Foley's mother said she was "embarrassed and appalled" by the American government and accused U.S. officials of not doing enough to rescue her son while he was in captivity.

"Sometimes our best is simply not enough," Pompeo added.