Syria Denies Holding U.S. Journalist Hostage for Decade as Washington Calls for Return

U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington knew 'with certainty' that Austin Tice, who was reporting on the uprising against Bashar al-Assad when he disappeared, is being held by Syria

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Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice, who is missing in Syria, speak during a press conference, at the Press Club, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 2018.
Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice, who is missing in Syria, speak during a press conference, at the Press Club, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 2018.Credit: Bilal Hussein /AP

Syria on Wednesday denied kidnapping or holding a U.S. journalist who disappeared a decade ago a week after President Joe Biden demanded that Damascus let him go home.

Austin Tice, a former U.S. Marine and a freelance journalist, was kidnapped in August 2012 aged 31 while reporting in Damascus on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

His family believes he is alive and still being held in Syria. The identity of Tice's captors is not known, and there has been no claim of responsibility for his abduction.

In this image taken from an undated video posted to YouTube, American freelance journalist Austin Tice, who had been reporting for American news organizations in Syria until his disappearance in August 2012, prays in Arabic and English while blindfolded in the presence of gunmen.Credit: AP

On Wednesday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry described Tice as a U.S. serviceman and denied the government was holding him or any other U.S. citizen.

"These are baseless allegations," the statement said.

Issuing a statement last week marking the tenth anniversary of his captivity, Biden said Washington knew "with certainty" that Tice is being held by the Syrian government.

The U.S. State Department did not have any immediate comment on the Syrian government's statement.

Biden last week said his administration had "repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home."

Efforts resumed

Washington suspended its diplomatic presence in Syria in 2012 with the onset of the country's civil war.

Biden met with Tice's parents at the White House in early May and told them he would work "relentlessly" until his return is secured. Efforts to secure his release appeared to have picked up since then.

In June, Lebanon's intelligence chief, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, said U.S. officials wanted him to resume efforts to bring Tice home and that he would visit Syria for talks on the issue.

In an interview with General Security magazine, his agency's official publication, Ibrahim said that in past talks with Damascus on Tice, Syria had raised demands related to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, a resumption of diplomatic relations and the lifting of some U.S. sanctions.

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price repeated Washington's calls to Syria to ensure Tice and every U.S. national held in Syria can return home.

"When it comes to our efforts to seek the safe return of Austin, we have engaged extensively – and that includes directly – with Syrian officials and through third parties," he said, declining to give further details.

The families of hostages and detainees have begun to collectively raise their voices to urge Biden to prioritize the issue and take steps such as arranging further prisoner swaps with foreign governments.

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