Families of American hostages murdered by ISIS have joined together in a plea for the Obama administration to find and bring home journalist Austin Tice.
Tice, from Houston, reported from Syria for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets. His background as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer enabled him to get close to the fighting as a war correspondent, and he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.
“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012. The Houston resident disappeared as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive” was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. The Assad regime has denied any involvement.
In December 2012, a Syrian general who defected from Assad’s forces and was leading FSA rebels told PJM “there is no way any opposition party would keep or capture any American journalist.”
“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. 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.
After a spate of ISIS beheadings of Americans, the Tice family said they had information that led them to believe he was not being held by ISIS.
The years have come and gone with no word on Tice’s fate; his family has not given up in their effort to bring him home.
Diane and John Foley (the parents of James Foley), Ed and Paula Kassig (the parents of Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig), Carl, Marsha and Eric Mueller (the parents and brother of Kayla Mueller), and Shirley and Arthur Sotloff (the parents of Steven Sotloff) penned a joint op-ed for McClatchy noting that President Obama “made a commitment to improve our government’s dismal record on the return of American hostages” after the deaths of their loved ones.
“We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror. We will never fully recover from the horrific outcome of our own hostage crises. But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home,” they wrote.
“At the recent White House correspondents’ dinner, President Obama committed ‘to fight for the release of American journalists held against their will.’ We were stunned and disheartened when the president chose not to refer by name to Austin, the only American news journalist being held against his will.”
Mueller’s family said they’re “haunted every day by the fact that we didn’t secure Kayla’s release, by the extraordinary hope she held during her terrifying captivity, by the horrific torture we now know she endured, by the missed opportunities and by the deadly silence that cost all the hostages their lives.”
Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker from Arizona kidnapped in August 2013, was tortured and raped after being forced to wed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She was killed in February 2015 at age 26.
“Our hearts are broken and our hope is that our government will do all it is able to bring Austin and all hostages home safely,” the Muellers wrote. “No additional U.S. citizens should have to endure the silence of our country, with that silence filled only by the terrorists holding them.”
Sotloff, a Miami native who wrote for outlets such as TIME and Newsweek, was also kidnapped from Aleppo, Syria, in August 2013. He was beheaded in an ISIS video in September 2014. He was 31 years old.
The Sotloff family reminded Obama: “You told us in person that if it were your daughters, you would do anything in your power to bring them home. We implore you: Bring Austin Tice home.”
Foley was reporting for Agence France-Presse and Global Post when he was kidnapped in November 2012. He was the first American beheaded by ISIS in an August 2014 video. Foley was 40 years old.
“Mr. President, after the horrific executions of our son James Foley and the other courageous Americans, you agreed with us that America could do better!” the Foleys wrote. “We are counting on you to keep your promise by bringing Austin Tice home before you leave office!”
Kassig, a humanitarian aid worker and former Army Ranger from Indiana, was seized in October 2013. His beheading was not shown on camera, just his steely silence as he refused to read any ISIS statement. Kassig was killed in November 2014 at age 26.
His family stressed that they “are devastated by the loss of our son, but the pain will be slightly lessened if his death helps bring Austin and others home.”
“We are not asking the White House to put anyone in harm’s way, nor compromise national security,” the families said in a unified voice. “We are asking the president, fully within the responsibilities and obligations of his office, to put aside any personal or election year concern, to engage boldly and to use all appropriate means to bring Austin Tice safely home as soon as possible.”
On May 3, State Department press secretary John Kirby was asked at the daily press briefing if the U.S. government believed Tice is still alive and whether the Assad regime is holding him.
“The truth is I think there’s still more information that we need,” Kirby replied. “Austin is never far from our minds and I can tell you that we continue to very energetically try to get more information about his whereabouts and to stay in touch with his family as much as we can about that. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. I can just tell you that it’s very much – very much and very close on our minds here.”
“We’re still trying to get better information about his whereabouts and his condition. I think I have to leave it at that.”