Last week’s high-profile prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia has resurfaced attention on another foreign prisoner case. Texas-based journalist and former U.S. Marine captain Austin Tice was abducted in August 2012 near a contested area west of Damascus, Syria. Representatives of the Syrian government have repeatedly denied imprisoning Tice, but President Biden has said, “We know with certainty that the Syrian government is holding Tice.”
Austin Tice disappeared just after his 31st birthday, so the Houston native is now 41 years old. No one has heard from him since a brief video surfaced one month after his capture. In it, a blindfolded Tice was being led over rocky terrain by armed men in white robes and said, “Oh, Jesus” after being forced to repeat part of an Arabic prayer.
At the time of his capture, Austin Tice was working in Syria as a freelance investigative journalist for several prominent news organizations, including The Washington Post, CBS News and McClatchy newspapers. He was planning to return to Washington D.C. to finish his last year at Georgetown University Law Center. President Biden recently met with Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, and has promised to continue working on their son’s release.
“The Tice family deserves answers, and more importantly, they deserve to be swiftly reunited with Austin,” Biden told The Washington Post. “We stand with Austin’s many loved ones, and we will not rest until we bring Austin home. Ten years is far, far too long. So is every additional day.”
The reason for Austin Tice’s abduction has never been clarified and no one has ever claimed responsibility for his capture. The Washington Post article states that journalists weren’t allowed to enter Syria without an invitation from the Syrian government. Even so, many did decide to enter the country illegally through Turkey or other countries that share a border with Syria.
According to a 2020 Fox News article, U.S. officials were working with the Czech Republic as a go-between to get information about where Austin Tice is being held. In August 2020, U.S. counterterrorism officials traveled to Damascus for the first talks between the two governments in 10 years. Even though they brought up Austin Tice’s name, the Syrian media said officials refused to discuss the case until the U.S. agreed to talk about its withdrawal from Syria.
Aljazeera reported earlier this year that the U.S. is still conducting air attacks on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in eastern Syria even though Washington has pulled back from its role in the country. American soldiers have had a presence in Syria since September 2014 when they were sent to fight against ISIL/ISIS as part of the campaign already being conducted in Iraq. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Turkey and Al-Assad’s main backer, Russia, have all repeatedly called for U.S. forces to withdraw.
Austin Tice’s family says that they have credible sources that tell them he is still alive. They have created a website to keep people informed of how long Tice has been detained and what they can do to help bring him home. The Tice family says that they have never been told what may be required to ensure his safe release, but they are pleading with people to ask the U.S. and Syrian governments to let him go. The U.S. government is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading directly to Austin Tice’s location, safe recovery and return. Anyone with information on Tice is encouraged to contact the FBI Tip Line or their local FBI office. Individuals who live overseas can provide information to their nearest American Embassy or Consulate.