BEIRUT — The parents of missing American journalist Austin Tice said Thursday that they are "fully confident" their son will be released from captivity in Syria, and they urged his captors to contact them ahead of the fifth anniversary of his disappearance near Damascus.
Tice, a former Marine and Georgetown University law student, vanished Aug. 13, 2012 — two days after he turned 31. His stories from Syria — including vivid front-line dispatches — appeared in The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other news outlets.
“We are willing to cooperate with any government or group in order for our son to return home,” said Debra Tice, who has made numerous trips to Damascus to investigate her son’s disappearance. Syria at the time was on the verge of a full-blown civil war.
“Our message has been the same for five years,” she said. “We are just asking whoever is holding Austin: What is going to be required to resolve this issue and bring Austin safely home?”
Tice’s parents said Thursday that they would not speculate on the identity of their son’s captors. U.S. officials have said they believed Tice was being held by the Syrian government — but little progress has been made in finding out the details of his captivity.
In June, the New York Times reported that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had opened up a back channel with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the goal of securing Tice's release. That line of communication, however, was reportedly abandoned after President Trump ordered strikes on a Syrian air base as punishment for a chemical-weapons attack on civilians in Idlib province in April.
(In June 2012, Tice wrote a Washington Post story from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of the chemical-weapons attack).
The Tices declined to comment on the Times report but said they have been pleased with the "speed and engagement" with which the Trump White House has approached their case. The administration has prioritized the release of captive Americans abroad, including Egyptian American Aya Hijazi, who was held in Egypt, and the now-deceased Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned in North Korea.
“For us, I think, the main thing is that there is absolutely no evidence” that he is not alive, Marc Tice said of his son at the news conference. We are “working with the confidence that he is alive and he’ll come home safe. It is just a matter of excruciating time.”
Syrian officials have denied knowledge of Tice’s location. The only time his captors reached out to prove he had been taken was six weeks after he vanished, when a brief video showing Tice blindfolded on a hillside was uploaded to YouTube. In the video, Tice is surrounded by armed men.
"Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus," he can be heard saying.
In a posting on its website that was updated last month, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, a media advocacy organization, said without further explanation that Tice "is alive and he is not being held by ISIS," as the Islamic State extremist group is widely known. A representative of Reporters Without Borders said at Thursday's news conference that Tice is the last American journalist detained in Syria.
"We need another chance to communicate with him," Debra Tice said.
In a message to her son, she said: "We don't give up. We're waiting. We're ready. We'll get you home. Hang in there."
Cunningham reported from Istanbul.