The FBI announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading directly to the safe location, recovery, and return of journalist Austin Tice, buoyed by the belief that the Marine veteran is still alive nearly six years after he disappeared in Syria.
Whereas past intelligence assessments have concluded Tice may have died during his captivity, two senior officials told ABC News that more recent intel indicates the Texan is likely still alive.
As the 2011 Arab Spring protests drew violent reprisals from President Bashar al-Assad that spiraled into civil war, Tice 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.
Tice disappeared as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive,” showing the journalist blindfolded and praying to Jesus, 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.
The Tice family said in a July statement that they are “keenly aware of his empty chair, sorely missing his big hugs and wonderful laugh. In addition to so many birthdays and holidays, he was absent from the weddings of two of his sisters, and as a doting uncle he has yet to meet their two beautiful new babies.”
Debra and Marc Tice said in January 2017 that the Obama administration and their senator, John Cornyn (R-Texas), told them information indicated Austin could still be alive.
Including his family’s tireless efforts to attempt to secure Austin’s freedom, Reporters Without Borders and Georgetown University have been working on Tice’s behalf. Austin is a graduate of the School of Foreign Service and a student at the Georgetown Law Center.
An exhibition of Austin’s photos from Syria, particularly the children caught in the war, begins Monday at the ICC Galleria at Georgetown and runs for a week.
“We are heartened by the recent U.S. Government posting of a reward for information,” Tice’s parents Debra and Mark Tice told ABC. “We deeply appreciate every increased effort to hasten the day that we see our son safely home.”
Austin would be 36 years old now. He is believed to be held by Bashar al-Assad’s regime or forces loyal to the dictator; even during the reign of ISIS, Tice’s parents said they had information that led them to believe Austin was not being held by the terror group. Austin’s last known route from Darayya to the Lebanon border left him vulnerable to fall into the hands of Assad loyalists with close ties to Hezbollah.