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Syria denies holding Austin Tice after Biden’s demand for release

A banner outside The Washington Post's building in D.C. last week, marking 10 years since Austin Tice's disappearance. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT — Syria denied on Wednesday that it is holding missing U.S. journalist Austin Tice, who was abducted in Syria a decade ago at the height of the civil war that has torn apart the country.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry addressed President Biden’s claim last week that Tice is being held by the Syrian government, calling it “invalid accusations against the Syrian government of kidnapping or arresting U.S. citizens, among them Austin Tice, a service member in the U.S. Army.” It added that Tice and others had entered illegally.

“Syria emphasizes that any official dialogue or communication with the U.S. government side will only be public and based on the rule of respecting the sovereignty and independence and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic’s land,” the statement said.

Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan delivers remarks at a National Press Club event to mark the 10th anniversary of Austin Tice’s disappearance in Syria. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden says U.S. knows that Syria has held Austin Tice, again calls for journalist’s release

It also placed the fault squarely on the U.S. government, saying it had broken the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations when it “not only turned a blind eye but encouraged tens of U.S. citizens to travel to Syria and enter its lands illegally and without permission from its government, through nonofficial border crossings or by sneaking into areas that are controlled by terrorist armed groups.”

Tice was abducted in Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012, just days after his 31st birthday. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and later became a journalist covering Syria, including for The Washington Post.

“We know with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime,” Biden said in a statement on Aug. 10. “We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.”

10 years after Austin Tice’s abduction in Syria, his parents still fight for him

In early May, Biden met with Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, and promised to work on securing his release.

“The Tice family deserves answers, and more importantly, they deserve to be swiftly reunited with Austin,” Biden said. “We stand with Austin’s many loved ones, and we will not rest until we bring Austin home. Ten years is far, far too long. So is every additional day.”

Tice was last seen in a video posted on YouTube soon after his disappearance showing him blindfolded and being led through rugged terrain by armed men in white robes.

Tice served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and then graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He attended the law school there until 2012, when he decided to cover Syria as a freelance journalist.

Journalists covering the conflict without invitation from the Syrian government had to enter the country illegally through Turkey or other neighboring countries. Tice won a Polk Award for his reporting on the war for McClatchy newspapers.

In August 2020, Kash Patel, the U.S. counterterrorism chief, and Roger D. Carstens, the presidential envoy for hostage affairs, traveled to Damascus in the first contacts between the two governments in 10 years. They brought up Tice, but Syrian media said officials refused to discuss the case until the United States agreed to discuss its withdrawal from the country.

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