US president Joe Biden has asked the Syrian government to release US journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared ten years ago near Damascus while covering the Syrian war.
“We know with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime.” Mr Biden said. “We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.” Mr Biden did not offer evidence that Mr Tice has been held by the government.
The Syrian authorities have denied the accusation, while no rebel group has claimed Mr Tice’s capture or offered to ransom him. He was seized by armed men at a checkpoint near the Damascus suburb of Daraya on August 14th, 2012, and was last seen blindfolded and bound in a video posted online that September.
The US has offered a $1 million (€960,000) reward for his information on his whereabouts and recovery.
An ex-marine who served in Afghanistan, Mr Tice, then 30, entered Syria illegally in May 2012 via Turkey as a freelance journalist reporting for the publishing company McClatchy, the Washington Post and other outlets. While embedded with a faction of the rebel Free Syrian Army, established by Turkey in July 2011, he travelled from northwestern Idlib province to Damascus.
In McClatchy dispatches he wrote in praise of death-daring “freedom fighters” but castigated them for killing captives. From al-Tal in the Damascus countryside he had a scoop on the July 28th explosion of a rebel bomb that killed the Syrian minister for defence and other senior security officials during a meeting in the capital.
For 83 days of reporting from Syria before his disappearance, Mr Tice received the prestigious award honouring US journalist George Polk, who was murdered in Greece in 1948 during that country’s post-second World War civil conflict.
Two dozen foreign correspondents have been killed in Syria’s war, the majority during 2012-2013. The most famous among them was the Sunday Times’s Marie Colvin, a US citizen killed by Syrian army shelling in early 2012 during the battle of Baba Amr near Homs.
The Tice family, whom Mr Biden met in May, “deserves answers”, the US president stated, adding that the repatriation of US citizens “held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad” is a high priority for his administration.
Mr Biden has come under strong pressure to secure the release by Russia of US basketball star Brittney Griner, who has been jailed on drug charges, and ex-US marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned for espionage. Mr Whelan also has Irish, British and Canadian citizenship. Mr Biden has, reportedly, offered to swap Ms Griner and Mr Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been incarcerated in the US since 2012.