Syria has denied that it is holding the missing American journalist, Austin Tice, and other Americans, days after the United States said that it is “certain” Damascus has detained him.
In a statement today, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that the regime of Bashar Al-Assad “denies it had kidnapped or is holding any American citizen on its territories”. The statement condemned the US’s “misleading and illogical statements by the American President and Secretary of State that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped or detained American citizens including former US Marine, Austin Tice”.
Tice – who wrote for a number of news outlets including the Washington Post – went missing on 14 August 2012, after he was stopped at a checkpoint in an area west of the Syrian capital, Damascus. He was in the country to cover the conflict which had recently broken out, following the start of the Syrian revolution and the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors the year before.
Following his abduction, a video was released a month later showing him blindfolded and held by armed men. Since then, he has not been seen or heard from. Another American who was abducted and detained in Syria was Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who disappeared in 2017.
On the 10th anniversary of Tice’s abduction last week, the White House released its statement in which President Joe Biden said that “We know with certainty that he has been held by the Government of Syria,” adding that Washington has repeatedly asked Damascus “to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.”
The Syrian regime’s denial of its holding of Tice also comes a day after US State Department Spokesman, Ned Price, revealed to reporters that the Biden administration has “engaged extensively – and that includes directly – with Syrian officials and through third parties” to return Tice and other Americans.
“Syria has never acknowledged holding him,” Price said, reiterating that “we are not going to be deterred in our efforts. We are going to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s safe return.”
Serious efforts towards Tice’s release began when officials from former President Donald Trump’s administration secretly visited Damascus for negotiations in 2020. The Assad regime’s demands, however, included the full withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the lifting of sanctions and the restoration of diplomatic ties, which Washington refused.