10 Years After Disappearing in Syria, Freedom Is Elusive for U.S. Journalist

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Ten years after the American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria because the nation descended right into a brutal civil battle, and was believed to have been held captive by the federal government of President Bashar al-Assad since, his launch nonetheless stays elusive.

While one in all his employers says that efforts to safe his freedom are selecting up steam, his household stays unconvinced that the Biden administration is doing sufficient to push the Syrian authorities, partly on account of the diplomatic issues stemming from the dearth of formal relations between the United States and Syria.

McClatchy, the U.S. newspaper firm for which the journalist had been freelancing, amongst others, stated this week {that a} multinational effort to free Mr. Tice was displaying indicators of revival and that there had been direct contacts between the U.S. and Syrian governments.

A spokeswoman for McClatchy stated Monday that the progress was the end result of intense exercise by the Biden administration and the journalism business main as much as the tenth anniversary of Mr. Tice’s disappearance. But the corporate’s chief govt, Tony Hunter, has additionally stated not too long ago that there had not been a lot motion on the problem since May.

“For McClatchy, this anniversary was an opportunity to shine a light on Austin’s decade-long plight,” stated the spokeswoman, Susan Firey. “And, in tandem, to shine a light on the decade-long inaction of three administrations.”

Last week, Debra and Marc Tice, the dad and mom of Mr. Tice, who disappeared in August 2012 outdoors Damascus, Syria, wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post wherein they famous the household weddings, graduations and different household get-togethers their son had missed in 10 years of captivity, and urged President Biden to step up diplomatic efforts to free him.

The Tice household didn’t reply to requests for an interview.

The United States has “engaged extensively” to get Mr. Tice again to the United States, together with by instantly contacting Syrian officers and dealing by way of third events, in keeping with a senior administration official who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case. However, the official stated the Syrian authorities had not but agreed to debate Mr. Tice’s case.

Last week, Mr. Biden stated in a press release that his administration had repeatedly requested Syria’s authorities to work with them to carry Mr. Tice house.

“On the tenth anniversary of his abduction, I am calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home,” Mr. Biden stated within the assertion, including that the United States was sure that the journalist was being held by the Syrian authorities.

Mr. Biden has stated that his administration has no greater precedence than the discharge of American hostages and people wrongly detained overseas.

If he’s nonetheless alive, because the United States believes he’s, Mr. Tice, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be one of many longest-held American hostages overseas, a captivity that has prolonged throughout three U.S. administrations. He would have turned 41 on Aug. 11.

Mr. Tice, who was freelancing for The Washington Post in addition to McClatchy and different retailers when he was kidnapped, had been in Syria for months, embedding with and writing about opposition rebels as an anti-government rebellion spiraled into civil battle. Syria has lengthy maintained that it’s not holding Mr. Tice and has no details about him.

Efforts to safe his launch have been difficult by the truth that the United States suspended diplomatic relations with Syria on account of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent.


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Mr. Tice’s dad and mom met on May 2 with Mr. Biden on the White House, the place he directed his senior nationwide safety workers to have interaction instantly with the Syrian authorities, in keeping with the article they wrote in The Washington Post.


Weeks after that assembly, Lebanon’s safety chief, Abbas Ibrahim, got here to Washington and met with officers from the Biden administration and the C.I.A., in keeping with Nizar Zakka, president of Hostage Aid Worldwide. His group has been serving to Mr. Ibrahim and the United States for the previous two years to seek out leads relating to Mr. Tice, he stated.

The goal of the assembly was to discover a technique to make advances with the Syrians, who’ve at all times been evasive when requested about Mr. Tice, Mr. Zakka stated.

Mr. Ibrahim has been credited with negotiating the discharge of a number of Westerners from the Middle East, together with an American and Canadian from Syria, in addition to Mr. Zakka, a Lebanese nationwide held for 4 years in Iran and accused of spying for the United States.

After his assembly in Washington, Mr. Ibrahim went to Damascus and met with Syrian officers, however the assembly went nowhere, Mr. Zakka stated.

The Tice household continues to be demanding direct contact between the Biden administration and the Syrian authorities, dismissing purported State Department considerations about high-level recognition of Mr. al-Assad.

In 2014, Ms. Tice spent practically three months in Damascus “knocking on doors, making phone calls, doing everything possible to learn of Austin’s whereabouts.” Eventually she acquired a message from a senior Syrian authorities official: “I will not meet with the mother. Send a United States government official of appropriate title.”

The U.S. authorities has pursued quite a few efforts over time to safe the discharge of Mr. Tice, a lot of it underneath President Donald J. Trump, who made releasing American prisoners and hostages held world wide a precedence.

In 2017, within the first 12 months of Mr. Trump’s administration, the White House arrange a again channel to speak with the Syrian authorities. In February of that 12 months, Mike Pompeo, then the C.I.A. director, spoke on the cellphone with Ali Mamlouk, the top of Syria’s National Security Bureau intelligence service, who’s underneath U.S. sanctions.

The administration then despatched an middleman to satisfy with Mr. Mamlouk and ship an unsigned letter from the U.S. authorities. Those communications fell aside after the Syrian authorities carried out a chemical gasoline assault in rebel-held northern Syria and the United States responded with a missile strike on a Syrian airfield.

In August 2018, a high C.I.A. company official with experience within the Middle East met with Mr. Mamlouk in Damascus and raised Mr. Tice’s case.

Two years later, high-level U.S. officers, together with Roger D. Carstens, the State Department’s particular envoy for hostage affairs, met with Mr. Mamlouk once more in Damascus to attempt to safe the discharge of each Mr. Tice and one other American citizen, Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-born psychotherapist who was taken at a checkpoint in 2017.

The Syrian authorities has additionally not acknowledged holding Mr. Kamalmaz.

Months after the assembly, a U.S. official stated that efforts to safe the discharge of each males had been of their early phases.

The reliance on such again channels and intermediaries owing to the dearth of U.S. diplomatic relations with Syria has made these efforts extremely difficult. The United States closed its embassy in Damascus in 2012, and in 2014 closed the Syrian Embassy in Washington and suspended diplomatic relations between the 2 international locations.

The United States has additionally imposed sanctions on Syrian army and political officers for human rights abuses, in addition to on Syrian companies and banks.

In the op-ed they wrote, Mr. Tice’s dad and mom referred to as the obstacles cited by U.S. administrations “excuses.” They welcomed Mr. Biden’s phrases of encouragement however stated their son wanted greater than that after 10 years of captivity.

“He needs our government to turn the president’s words into action,” they wrote. “He needs to come home.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

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