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Biden: US knows ‘with certainty’ Syria holding missing journalist Austin Tice

Joe Biden has said that the US knows “with certainty” that the Syrian government is holding Austin Tice – an American journalist who has been missing for a decade – and called on Damascus to release him.

Ten years after the freelance reporter disappeared while reporting on the Syrian war, Biden said the US government knows “that [Tice] has been held by the Syrian regime”.

Noting that the US has “repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us”, Biden said in a statement on Wednesday that he is “calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home”.

Tice is believed to be the longest-held American journalist in history. No group has claimed responsibility for Tice’s abduction, and the Syrian government denies involvement.

Biden’s statement described Tice as a son, brother, US marine veteran and “an investigative journalist who put the truth above himself and traveled to Syria to show the world the real cost of war”.

Tice, who grew up in Houston as the eldest of seven siblings, was homeschooled, and enrolled in university at the age of 15. Later, during law school, he decided to join the US marines and was deployed to Afghanistan. He became interested in journalism. He traveled to Turkey in May 2012 aged 30 and crossed the border into Syria. He began filing dispatches and doing stringing work for US publications.

He had been in Syria 83 days when he was detained in a regime-controlled area in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, en route to the Lebanese border.

About five weeks after his abduction, a video appeared on YouTube of men with rifles leading Tice, blindfolded, along a hill. He was shown reciting a prayer in Arabic and adding, in English: “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.”

Former American officials have said that the video appeared to be a “crude ploy” by the Syrian regime to make it look as if Tice had been kidnapped by a rebel group. Neither the Syrian government nor any rebel group has ever issued any demands related to Tice’s detainment.

Since that video there have been no further public images of Tice. The US government believes he is alive, based in part on intelligence in 2016 that Tice was seen at a hospital in Damascus being treated for dehydration.

As president, Donald Trump took an interest in Tice’s case, and even reportedly began developing a plan that would allow the Syrians to return him while saving face, but it never came to fruition.

Tice’s parents, Debra and Marc Tice, met with Biden at the White House earlier this year. At the meeting, Biden instructed members of the National Security Council to “engage directly” with Syria, according to Texas Monthly. The US government has offered a reward of up to $1m for information leading to Tice’s safe return.

Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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