Austin Tice: Syria denies detaining journalist after White House claims otherwise

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a rare statement that the country “denies abducting or hiding US citizens who entered its territory or resided in areas under the sovereignty and authority of the Syrian government.”

The comments come a week after US President Joe Biden said Washington knew “with certainty” that Tice was being held by the Syrian government.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied holding Tice, but prior to its statement on Wednesday it had not publicly disclosed the journalist’s whereabouts since 2016.

Tice disappeared in Damascus, the Syrian capital, while working as a freelance journalist for CBS, The Washington Post and The McClatchy Company.

Tice’s family said Austin was traveling to the Damascus suburb of Darayya to work on one of his last plays for the summer on August 13, 2012, when he was detained at a checkpoint. He was to leave for Lebanon the next day. The Texas native and US Marine Corps veteran was due to return home to complete his final year of law school at Georgetown University.

Since then, the only information Tice’s family has received from his captors was a 43-second video that surfaced five weeks after his disappearance. It was titled “Austin Tice Is Alive” and showed Tice and a group of gunmen, but contained no other information.

In its statement Wednesday, the Syrian government denied ever arresting Tice.

10th anniversary of the disappearance

Tice was among the first journalists to disappear after peaceful pro-democracy protests in Syria sparked by the Arab Spring were violently crushed by Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Successive US administrations have maintained that Tice was alive and held captive somewhere in Syria. There was no indication that he had been abducted or held by the Islamic Statewho executed several American journalists he had kidnapped, including James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Although the FBI offered a $1 million reward for information on Tice’s whereabouts, his case has dragged on for years.

Tice’s parents worked diligently to bring the government and media attention to their son’s disappearance. During a meeting with Biden at the White House in May, the president “reiterated his commitment to continue to work through all available avenues to secure Austin’s long-awaited return to his family.”

The Biden administration has had direct contact with the Syrian government in an effort to secure Tice’s release, according to a source and a senior administration official. There have been a number of direct interactions – none of which took place in Damascus – but they have so far yielded no progress, the source said.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Tice’s disappearance, which his family and the White House have used to reiterate their requests for information.

“We know for certain that he was detained by the Syrian regime,” Biden said in a statement last week. “We have repeatedly asked the Syrian government to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.

“The Tice family deserves answers, and more importantly, they deserve to be reunited with Austin quickly.”

Debra Tice, Austin’s mother, told CNN Thursday, on her son’s 41st birthday, that she’s glad the president mentioned his name and that it’s a sign the administration is ready to negotiate his release.

“I’m so glad President Biden has spoken Austin’s name publicly,” Debra Tice told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “I think that’s an indication from the president that the US government is ready to engage with Syria to bring Austin home.”

In a separate statement Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington “will continue to pursue all available avenues to bring Austin home and will work tirelessly until we achieve that.”

Among those responsible for bringing Tice home is the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, who secretly traveled to Damascus and met with Assad regime officials in 2020 under the Trump administration. In May this year, he met with Abbas Ibrahim, a senior Lebanese security official, in Washington “to discuss US citizens missing or detained in Syria”, the Department of Security spokesman said at the time. State Ned Price.

Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, has played a role in securing the release of American detainees in the past, including Sam Goodwin of Syria and Nizar Zikka of Iran.

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