Syria denies holding US journalist Austin Tice

President Biden has said the US 'knows with certainty' that the former marine is being held by Syria

Austin Tice, who had been reporting for American news outlets in Syria until his disappearance in August 2012, prays in Arabic and English while blindfolded in the presence of gunmen. AP
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Syria has denied it is detaining US journalist Austin Tice or any other Americans

The denial comes a week after President Joe Biden said the US was sure the Syrian government was holding the former US Marine.

Syria “denies it kidnapped or is holding any American citizen on its territories”, its foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The US issued last week misleading and illogical statements by the American president and secretary of state that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped or detained American citizens including former US Marine Austin Tice,” the statement said.

Mr Biden's statement was released by the White House last week to mark the 10th anniversary of Mr Tice’s abduction in Syria, where he was covering the conflict.

“We know with certainty that he has been held by the government of Syria,” Mr Biden said in his statement last week. “We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.”

State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the US government has put pressure on Syria to return every US citizen.

Mr Price said the Biden administration has “engaged extensively — and that includes directly — with Syrian officials and through third parties” on Mr Tice's case.

“Syria has never acknowledged holding him,” Mr Price said. “We are not going to be deterred in our efforts. We are going to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s safe return.”

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The Syrian foreign ministry denied any secret contacts with US officials about missing Americans.

“Any official dialogue with the American government will only be public based on the respect of Syria’s sovereignty,” it said.

In May, Lebanese security official Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim met US officials in Washington as part of mediation efforts between the US and Syria for Mr Tice’s release.

Mr Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, has mediated in complicated hostage releases in the past.

In May, Mr Biden met Mr Tice’s parents and reiterated his commitment to working towards “Austin’s long overdue return to his family”.

In the final months of the Trump administration, two US officials — including the government’s top hostage negotiator Roger Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer — went to Damascus seeking information on Mr Tice and other Americans who have disappeared in Syria, in the highest-level talks in years between the US and President Bashar Al Assad’s government.

Blindfolded and surrounded by armed men

Mr Tice went missing shortly after his 31st birthday on August 14, 2012, at a checkpoint in a contested area west of the capital of Damascus.

A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying: “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.

He is one of two Americans to have gone missing in Syria. The other is Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who vanished in Syria in 2017.

Mr Tice, from Houston, has had his work published by The Washington Post, among other outlets. He went to Syria to cover the conflict that started in 2011.

The war has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced nearly half of the pre-conflict population of 23 million. More than five million are now outside the country.

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Updated: August 17, 2022, 12:37 PM