Syria rejects Biden claim it’s holding Austin Tice 10 years after kidnapping

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The Syrian government denied Wednesday that it is holding American journalist and former Marine Austin Tice hostage days after President Biden accused Damascus of detaining him.

“The U.S. 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 U.S. Marine Austin Tice,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.

The ministry went on to deny that it had “kidnapped or is holding any American citizen on its territories.”

The Syrian statement came one week after Biden said Washington knew “with certainty” that Tice “has been held by the Syrian regime.” 

“We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” the president said. “On the tenth anniversary of his abduction, I am calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home.”

This past Sunday marked a decade since Tice was kidnapped while covering Syria’s long-running civil war. A video released in September 2012 showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying, “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a signing ceremony for H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 16, 2022.
President Biden accused Damascus of detaining Austin Tice.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated that the US has pushed the government of Bashar al-Assad for information on Tice’s status. 

“Unfortunately, despite our calls, despite our engagement, despite the engagement of third parties in other countries, Syria has never acknowledged holding him,” Price told reporters. “But we are going – we are not going to be deterred in our efforts. We are going to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s safe return to [parents] Debra and Mark and to his entire family.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied in its statement having any secret contacts with US officials, adding that “any official dialogue with the American government will only be public based on the respect of Syria’s sovereignty.”

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. President Joe Biden says Washington is certain that the Syrian government is holding American journalist Austin Tice who went missing in the war-torn country a decade ago urging Damascus to help bring him back home. Biden’s comments were released in a statement Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, by the White House to mark the 10th anniversary since Tice was abducted.
Tice was kidnapped a decade ago while covering Syria’s civil war.

In May, top Lebanese security official Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim met with US officials in Washington as part of mediation efforts between the US and Syria for Tice’s release. Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, has mediated complicated hostage releases in the past.

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

The administration’s renewed emphasis on freeing Tice comes as the US also seeks to win the return of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another former Marine, Paul Whelan, both of whom are being held in Russia. 

Late last month, reports revealed the Biden administration has been considering trading convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout for the two Americans. 

freelance photographer Austin Tice in an undisclosed location.
In May, Biden met Austin Tice’s parents and reiterated his commitment to working toward “Austin’s long overdue return to his family.”

The Kremlin has indicated willingness to discuss a potential exchange, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning last week that it must occur “within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden.” 

Earlier this year, the US and Russia completed a prisoner swap resulting in the return of another former Marine, Trevor Reed.

With Post wires

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