In a hopeful sign, a YouTube video published last week shows American journalist Austin Tice alive after being captured by armed militants. Tice, a former infantry officer in the Marine Corps and a McClatchy and Washington Post freelancer, entered Syria in May and has not communicated with his family or colleagues since mid-August. McClatchy's Hannah Allam has the details:
In the 47-second clip, headlined “Austin Tice is alive,” Tice is shown blindfolded and disoriented, mangling an Islamic prayer before crying out, “Oh, Jesus.” He is surrounded by masked gunmen who act like militant Islamists, calling out “God is great!” and wearing the baggy traditional outfits of fighters operating in Afghanistan.
The video was posted Sept. 26 but escaped notice until early Monday, when a link to it appeared on a Facebook page that appears to support the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. Tips and other evidence previously gathered by the news organizations to which Tice contributed has suggested he is in Syrian government custody.
Earlier in September, Politico's Stephanie Gaskell reported that Czech diplomats were working to secure Tice's release on behalf of the U.S., which closed its embassy there in February. Tice had been reporting from Syria since May and, according to Gaskell, it was "feared that the Syrian regime is interrogating Tice for his connections with the rebels and with the U.S. military." The State Department, after seeing today's video, continues "to believe that, to the best of our knowledge, . . . he is in Syrian government custody,” said department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
To the casual viewer, it would appear that Tice is in the custody of jihadist groups, but some terrorism experts are skeptical, reports McClatchy:
Murad Batal al Shishani, a London-based analyst of jihadists who’s monitored extremist groups since the early 1990s, said many aspects of the video don’t jibe with the communiqués that are typically sent out by al Qaida-style extremists. The call-and-response rhythm in the cries of “God is great” seems off, he said, and it would be unusual for jihadists to include Tice’s mangled prayer, or to release such a low-quality clip when they’re known for slickly produced videos distributed via their own media wings. "If it was a jihadi video, they have their own platforms. They wouldn’t release it on YouTube,” Shishani said.
Tice's colleagues are calling for his immediate return. “We call on those who are holding Austin to release him promptly, unharmed,” Marcus Brauchili, executive editor of The Washington Post, said. “Austin is a journalist who was doing his job. He should be allowed to return to his family.” McClatchy Vice President for News Anders Gyllenhaal said, “We ask in the strongest possible terms for his immediate release.”