Middle East

Mother of kidnapped journalist appeals for information

Debra, the mother of American reporter Austin Tice who has been missing in Syria for more than three years, attends a news conference at the Press Club in Beirut May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

BEIRUT: The mother of American journalist Austin Tice, missing in Syria for more than 1,000 days, appealed Tuesday for the U.S. and Syrian governments to do more to secure his release, and asked for any information from the public about who is holding him. Tice is not believed to be held by any opposition forces in Syria, and the State Department recently announced that it is in periodic contact with the Syrian government about the Texan’s whereabouts.

This development, coming over two years after his disappearance, was a “good start,” his mother, Debra Tice said.

“We are glad that the governments are communicating directly. But more is needed. Communication must be regular and consistent,” she said at a news conference in Beirut Tuesday.

Tice appealed for any information from the public on who might be holding her son, and asked for any leads to be communicated through the family’s website at www.austinticefamily.com, or through Reporters Without Borders (RSF) or the Lebanese media-freedom watchdog, SKeyes.

The Syrian government denies that it is holding Tice.

“Someone, someone possibly near this place, knows something about my son and his whereabouts,” she said, speaking from the Press Club in Beirut’s Furn al-Shubbak. Expressing gratitude to Austin Tice’s captors for keeping him alive and safe, she asked, “Can my son be allowed these days to communicate with me by phone while I am in Beirut?”

While Debra Tice and her family have had no direct contact with Austin since his disappearance, she stated that they have every reason to believe he is alive, and received information to that end from “credible sources” as recently as a few weeks ago.

In a message to his captors, she asked whether they would be willing to meet with a family friend, someone “known by some Shiite leaders in Lebanon and beyond, over years.” Tice said she could not elaborate on who this person was.

She urged the U.S. and Syrian governments to continue collaborative efforts to secure her son’s release. Tice added that she has been disappointed with the U.S. efforts thus far.

“I think assistance would probably be an overstatement; it’s something more like coexistence,” she said in regard to the family’s relationship with the U.S. government.

On her fifth trip to Beirut to seek information about her son, Tice stressed that she had been overly ambitious about what the U.S. government would do to help.

“I have only ever been a mom, I am not qualified for this travel, I’m not qualified for these meetings, and I grossly overestimated that those who would be qualified in our government would step up to help my family,” she said.

The U.S. government’s hostage policy has come under increased scrutiny over the last year, and in particular after the beheading of U.S. captives, including journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, by ISIS in the summer of 2014.

The extremist group released captives from countries with a flexible hostage policy who were held with the two U.S. journalists.

U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a review of the government’s policy, which in its current state threatens relatives with prosecution if they pay ransoms.

Austin Tice, who was captured near Damascus in August 2012, was working as a freelance writer for the Washington Post and the McClatchy news service, among others.

His mother added that she was aware her family’s pain was “only a drop in that horrific sea of human suffering,” of the “unbelievable misery all across the Levant.”

Secretary-general of RSF, Christophe Deloire, speaking at the event, said that on top of the 170 journalists who have been killed in Syria since the outbreak of war in March 2011, 25 are still being held by radical groups and at least 30 within regime jails. Lebanese cameraman Samir Kassab was kidnapped near Aleppo in 2013 and his whereabouts are not known.

Tice added that while she appreciated the increased efforts of the U.S. government, anything but her son’s return was largely meaningless.

“This is a zero sum equation in that the only measure of success is when I have my son in my arms, so until we have that, we have nothing except efforts or rumors of effort.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 20, 2015, on page 8.

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