‘We believe that it is within Bashar al-Assad’s power to free Austin,’ the US Secretary of State says
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has demanded Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad release an American journalist who was abducted in the country nine years ago.
Austin Tice had travelled to Syria to cover the civil war and went missing in August 2012 after being detained at a checkpoint near the capital, Damascus.
On Wednesday, which marked Mr Tice’s 40th birthday, Mr Blinken issued a fresh appeal for his release and said that he was “personally committed” to bringing the former Marine home.
“He turns 40 years old today, having spent almost a quarter of his life in captivity,” Mr Blinken said in a statement.
“We believe that it is within Bashar al-Assad’s power to free Austin. We will continue to pursue all avenues to bring Austin home.
“Austin Tice must be allowed to return home to his loved ones who miss him dearly and to the country that awaits him eagerly.”
Originally from Texas, Mr Tice had been working as a freelance photojournalist for news organisations including The Washington Post, McClatchy Press, Agence France Press and CBS.
He had served in the US Marines from 2005 to 2015, serving two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, rising to the rank of captain before becoming a reservist.
He was also enrolled as a law student at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
On August 14, 2012, Mr Tice was taken hostage by a Syrian militia allied to the Government while trying to pass through a checkpoint.
Five weeks later, his captors released a video of Mr Tice. The footage is the last time he has been seen.
Despite no official word of his condition or whereabouts since then, the Biden administration continues to believe that the 40-year-old is still alive, and successive administrations have worked to secure his release.
A special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, reportedly travelled to Syria last year for a meeting with officials.
The meeting failed to yield any progress after the Syrian Government demanded the lifting of sanctions and troop withdrawals, while not producing any evidence of Mr Tice’s whereabouts.
His parents Debra and Marc Tice told NBC News in an interview this week that they continue to hold out hope for their son’s release.
Addressing her son directly, Mrs Tice said: “All my heart Austin, I hope you get this message… I’m so grateful to be your mom, and I can hardly wait to hold you again.”
They are calling for direct diplomatic engagement between the US and Syrian Government.
Fred Ryan, publisher of the Washington Post, wrote on Thursday that Mr Tice had “always embraced the ethos of service to others”.
He said President Biden had an “obligation” to bring Mr Tice home safely.
“Unfortunately, his plight has now extended into a third presidential administration,” Mr Ryan wrote.
“Obama was not able to free him. Trump was reportedly determined to bring Austin and other hostages home but was thwarted by obstacles that included his own bureaucracy.
“Today, President Biden has an opening to succeed where his predecessors failed. From Syria’s point of view, a new negotiating partner can offer a fresh start.”