Austin Tice, a U.S. freelance photojournalist who contributed to The Washington Post, McClatchy, Al-Jazeera English, and other news outlets, was detained at a checkpoint outside Damascus in August 2012 and has not been heard from since.
According to his family, Tice was about to enter his final year at law school in 2012 when he went to Syria to tell the story of the ongoing conflict. In August, he traveled near Damascus to write his final pieces before departing for Lebanon, according to his family’s website. He got into a car in the Damascus suburb of Darayya to make the trip, but shortly after leaving was detained at a checkpoint.
Tice appeared in a YouTube video posted on September 26, 2012. In the 47-second clip, a group of turbaned men shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and push Tice to his knees. Several analysts and news reports suggested that the scenes in the video were staged, and that the segment had been shot to promote a view that Islamic extremist groups were behind the unrest in Syria.
The Tice family said in a statement on their website on May 30, 2013, that they had not had any contact with Tice or his captors and “do not know with certainty who is holding him captive.”
In 2014, a State Department official told CPJ that officials were working to determine Tice’s status and whereabouts. Previously, the Czech Republic’s ambassador had said that Tice may be detained by the Syrian government. The Syrian government has denied holding Tice, according to news reports citing his family.
On January 27, 2020, Debra Tice held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where she said that she had spent 83 days in Damascus in 2014 searching for information about her son’s whereabouts and holding meetings with international organizations, foreign embassies, and Syrian government officials.
Debra Tice said that after six weeks in Damascus, she was given a message from a high placed Syrian government official, whom she did not identify, saying that he would not meet the mother and urging the U.S. to send a government official of appropriate title, which she viewed as an indication that Syria is holding her son captive. During the same news conference, Debra Tice said that a senior U.S. official in the Trump administration was stalling talks with Syria to secure Austin’s release.
In a public letter published by The Washington Post on August 3, 2020, Marc and Debra Tice called for U.S.-Syria talks to discuss the release of Austin Tice and, based on a quote in the book by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, “The Room Where it Happened,” blamed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for stalling talks with Damascus.
In August 2022, shortly before the 10-year anniversary of Tice’s disappearance, U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that the U.S. government knew “with certainty” that Tice “has been held” by the government of Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement that Biden’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, would continue to engage with the Syrian government to bring Tice home. In 2016, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, then deputy foreign minister, denied in an interview with The Associated Press that Syria was holding Tice or had any knowledge of his whereabouts.
On August 17, 2022, Syria’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying that it was holding Tice. The ministry called Biden and Blinken’s statements "misleading and illogical," adding that they included "baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped or detained American citizens, including former U.S. Marine Austin Tice.”
The Syrian mission to the United Nations, and the Syrian ministries of interior and defense, did not respond to CPJ’s emails in September 2022 requesting information about Tice’s status, whereabouts, and health.