BEIRUT — The parents of missing American journalist Austin Tice on Tuesday said they have new information that bolsters their confidence that their son is alive and appealed to the U.S. and Syrian governments to work together directly to secure his release.
Debra and Marc Tice were speaking during their eighth visit to Lebanon to raise publicity about their son, who has been missing since being detained at a checkpoint in neighboring Syria over six years ago. He was working as a freelance journalist in a rebel-held area outside Damascus at the time.
With the war in Syria winding down and President Trump taking an active interest in this case, there is more reason than ever to believe that conditions are ripe for their son to be freed by whoever is holding him, the Tices said at a news conference in Beirut.
They said they have always been confident that Austin is alive, but especially now. A $1 million reward offered by the FBI, which has since been matched by a coalition of media organizations, has prompted several new sources of information to come forward, said Marc Tice. He declined to specify the new information.
“It’s not just the feeling in our hearts that Austin is alive. It’s the consensus of all those working on his case,” he said.
The best hope lies in direct talks between Washington and Damascus for his release, Marc Tice said, “because Austin is American and because he is detained in Syria.”
The father stopped short of blaming the Syrian government for his son’s continued detention. “We do not have 100 percent confidence of that,” Marc Tice said. The Syrian government has promised to do all it can to find Austin, the father said, but has provided no information as to his whereabouts or well-being.
The Tices had been hoping to travel to Damascus to appeal directly to the Syrian government but have not been granted a visa.
However, Marc Tice added, “we do believe the Syrian government is best placed to help us get Austin back.”
The Tices said they are particularly encouraged by Trump’s personal interest in Austin’s case and by his track record of bringing home other Americans detained overseas, including Otto Warmbier, who was freed by North Korea earlier this year but died days later, and Andrew Brunson, the pastor who was released by Turkey in October. In meetings with Trump and other senior officials in recent months, “they have each made a commitment to us that they are determined to bring Austin home safely,” Marc Tice said. “And we continue to call for direct communication between officials of the two countries.”
At the time of his disappearance in August 2012, Austin Tice had been reporting from the Damascus suburb of Darayya, which was under rebel control.
There has been no reliable claim of responsibility for his abduction, which occurred in a contested area, according to Mark Tice, though a video released shortly after Austin went missing purported to show a rebel group threatening to execute him. The authenticity of the video has not been confirmed.
Austin, a former U.S. Marine who had served in Iraq, has reported for the McClatchy news organization and The Washington Post, among others. His parents have sustained a tireless campaign for his release, and Debra Tice spent many months in Damascus in 2014 and 2015 in search of information.
She said there is still no clear indication what his captors may be seeking in return for his release. “Until we have contact with those holding him, we won’t know exactly what is needed,” she said.
But as the prospects for his release brighten, Debra Tice said she spends more and more time thinking about the moment he will come home. “I plan to make it very difficult for him to breathe because I’ll be hugging him so tight,” she said.