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Taken in Syria: The Quest to Find Austin Tice

Four months after this Marine-turned-journalist disappeared, clues point to Assad and the family tries to get help from Washington. And sources believe Austin is still alive.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

December 12, 2012 - 12:36 am
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Arnold started the Free Austin Tice accounts on Twitter and Facebook and a Change.org petition calling for his release. She found the large protests in Syria, demanding his release, after he went missing “really touching.”

“It has to be Assad,” she said. “[Austin] was really, really good friends with hundreds of rebel leaders.”

Austin’s parents stress that they don’t know who’s holding him and don’t want to rush to conclusions in their quest to get their son home.

A Syrian general who defected early this year and now leads rebel forces told PJM this week that if Austin had been captured by opposition forces, even Salafists, “he would be in the United States.”

“There is no way any opposition party would keep or capture any American journalist,” he said. “We would have known immediately. I know this with no ifs, ands, or buts.”

The general said Austin’s route from Darayya to the Lebanon border left him vulnerable to fall into the hands of Assad loyalists with close ties to Hezbollah. And that could provide powerful clues as to why Austin is being held: as a treasure to be used if needed.

“I can assure you of one thing: I can say he’s safe. I can assure the family he’s safe,” the general said. “I’m pretty sure he’s not in Syria.” Austin could possibly be in a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon, he added, completely hidden from anyone who would betray his location.

“They’re going to keep him as a card for the future,” he continued. “No way they will think about executing him. He is going to be safe until the time comes and he is played as a card.”

The general stressed who would know what happened to Tice: Assad allies Iran and Russia. Moscow has been selling arms to the regime and deflecting action against it at the United Nations Security Council, and the general said Russian “counselors” are on the ground with Assad’s loyalists — “wherever you go, wherever you turn.”

At press time, the Russian embassy had not returned a PJM request for comment.

As one of Syria’s neighbors who could know something about Austin’s whereabouts, the Turkish embassy told PJM that they’re looking into the matter to see if they can offer any information.

Richard Grenell, former spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, runs Capital Media Partners in Los Angeles, which has been involved in four cases to free Americans held abroad — two of those in Iran.

He said bringing greater attention to a case such as Austin’s can have its risks and rewards. “Media attention only raises the bounty on their head,” Grenell said. “There is an appropriate time to go public and to use the media — only when negotiations are close and you know exactly what the other side wants.”

There needs to be work on a government-to-government basis first to identify exactly who is holding Austin, he said. And a congressional letter to the State Department from lawmakers on the Hill could be a very useful tool in getting that moving.

“You cannot go through the State Department and let them be the one in charge,” Grenell said.

Meanwhile, the Tice family is holding on to their faith and the hope that soon they’ll get a sliver of information that can bring Austin back.

“The thing that I think is the most effective is to pray and to really believe that there is the highest power that is sovereign over all the universe and fully in control, and to reach out to that power to bring our son home,” Ms. Tice said when asked what concerned Americans can do to help. “It doesn’t get any higher than that.”

“I know that we are carried on the incredible outpouring of kind thoughts, good will, prayer and more prayer,” she continued. “I know that is giving us the strength. My earnest prayer is that wave of good will will give us the strength to bring our son home.”

(The Tice family has set up a website, www.austinticefamily.com. Tips about Austin’s case can be sent to information@austinticefamily.com or to PJ Washington.)

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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