Syrian government detains US journalist Tice

BEIRUT (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday the United States is certain the Syrian government is holding American journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in the war-torn country a decade ago. He urged Damascus to help bring Tice home.

Biden’s comments came in a statement released by the White House to mark the 10th anniversary of Tice’s kidnapping, which took place while he was in Syria covering his now-prolonged conflict. They were so far the clearest indication that the United States is certain that Tice is held by the government of President Bashar Assad.

Tice disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday on August 14, 2012 at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of the capital Damascus. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by gunmen, saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.

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

“On the tenth anniversary of his abduction, I call on Syria to end this and help us bring him home,” Biden said. He added that “there is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.”

Four years ago, then-US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said Tice would be alive and being held hostage in Syria. He did not say why officials believe him or who might hold him.

In May, Lebanon’s top security official, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, met with US officials in Washington as part of US-Syria mediation efforts for the release of Tice. Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security directorate, has negotiated complicated hostage releases in the past.

Tice is one of two Americans missing in Syria. The other is Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who disappeared in Syria in 2017.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said in a statement that “we will continue to explore all available avenues to bring Austin home and will work tirelessly until we achieve this.”

Blinken said the President’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, will continue to engage with the Syrian government in close coordination with the White House, the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, and the State Department. .

In 2016, then-Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told The Associated Press that “Austin Tice is not in the hands of the Syrian authorities and we have no information to his knowledge. topic”. Mekdad is currently Syria’s foreign minister.

In May, Biden met with Tice’s parents and reiterated his commitment to continue working by all available means to secure “Austin’s long-awaited return to his family.”

Tice is originally from Houston and his work has been published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets. He traveled to Syria to cover the conflict which began in 2011 and has since left hundreds of thousands dead and almost half the pre-war population of 23 million displaced. More than 5 million displaced people are refugees outside the country.

In the final months of the Trump administration, two US officials – including the government’s top hostage negotiator, Carstens – paid a secret visit to Damascus to seek information on Tice and other Americans who disappeared in Syria. It was the highest-level discussion in years between the United States and Assad’s government, although Syrian officials did not provide any meaningful information about Tice.

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

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