Report By: Nina Rai
Damascus, Oct. 2, 2012
The missing American photojournalist who was covering the Syrian civil war has been found in an hazy video which has surfaced online on Facebook, purportedly showing the ex-U.S. Marine in disheveled and tattered clothes, surrounded by gun-touting men in unknown rocky, remote mountainous terrain.
Austin Tice, a Houston based-freelance photo-scribe, was covering war-torn Syria for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Post, both of whom have identified Tice in the video, which was posted online Sept. 26. Before he was captured he was last heard via an e-mail which he posted to his colleagues August 13, 2012.
In the amateur video Tice, 31 who has been missing in Syria for six weeks, is seen blindfolded and groggy. The video lasts less than a minute, entitled “Austin Tice Still Alive,” depicts him trudging on some remote, rugged terrain surrounded by shabby men with guns and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher talking loudly and dragging him up a hill.
The shaky video footage apparently shot on a cell-phone was first uploaded last Wednesday on YouTube, however, it only really caught on this Monday (Oct. 1) when a Facebook page and Twitter account comprising of Syrian President Assad’s supporters was linked to the video clip.
While the condition of Austin Tice from the YouTube clip by no accounts can be considered hale and hearty, the video has given a ray of hope and some succor for his anxious parents that at-least he is still alive. Marc Tice, Austin’s father in Houston, yesterday made a family statement to CNN.
The statement read: "Knowing Austin is alive and well is comforting to our family. Though it is difficult to see our eldest son in such a setting and situation as the one depicted in the video, it is reassuring that he appears to be unharmed."
In the video an obviously distressed Tice, is seen saying a jumbled prayer in Arabic, “Oh Allah,” a prayer traditionally made before dying by devout Muslims, according to the New York Times. Tice is also seen moaning, “Oh, oh Jesus,” even as he rests his head on a captor’s shoulders. However, he does not appear to be harmed.
A blind-folded Tice is seen wearing a tattered green shirt while the faces of his captors are obscured. Their garbs looks like what traditionally the Afghans wear and not those from native Syria, reports The Times. No one has come forward to directly claim responsibility for the video, even the date of recording of the clip is not shown. Some analysts opine it to be the handiwork of amateurs as it does not have the finesse of other jihadi videos.
Anders Gyllenhaal, the vice president of the news organization McClatchy, used the video to make a renewed call for the American to be freed. In a statement he said: "Austin Tice is a journalist, risking his life to tell the story of what's happening in Syria to the rest of the world…..We ask in the strongest possible terms for his immediate release."
A former Marine, Austin Tice, is understood to have entered Syria in May without proper authorization from the government. The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland maintains Tice has been detained by Syrian authorities since August. "There are a lot of reasons for the Syrian government to duck responsibility, but we continue to believe that -- to the best of our knowledge -- he is in Syrian government custody," said Nuland. However, Damascus has not admitted to taking him into custody. Meanwhile, American officials too would not verify the authenticity of the latest Yotube clip.
Opinion: While the YouTube video footage of Tice is comforting in that he is probably alive, at the same time it raises quite a few questions. The post on Facebook where the video was first posted, comprising of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters, claim Tice has been captured by the opposition forces fighting Assad, namely the Nusra Front gangs and al-Qaida. According to them, they posted the video as it would make many western media outlets contrite over unnecessarily blaming Syrian security forces for Tice’s detention.
However, those opposed to President Assad who posted a version of the said Tice video on YouTube have asserted that the Syrian authorities have staged a fake ‘jihadi’ video and that actually the al-Assad forces are behind Austin Tice’s abduction. Between the two versions, the second one seems more plausible as one analyst Murad Batal al-Shishani told McClatchy: “If it was a jihadi video, they have their own platforms. They wouldn’t release it on YouTube.”
While from the hazy video it’s difficult to decide whether it is an actual scenario taking place with Tice or it is something stage managed. Agreeing with Murad Batal, it looks to be a fake video. The Syrian government must be well aware where Tice is held captive. Probably they are holding him as a bargaining chip with the U.S government in the event of any military intervention or for supporting the rebels of the Assad regime by the latter.
Whatever the reason, it’s a dangerous game being played by the wily Assad, as it could backfire badly, as America is not going to take it lying down if something happens to Tice. Moreover, Tice happens to be a journalist who was only doing his job, in fact putting his life on line to put out an authentic account of what is happening in Syria. It is now the Syrian government’s responsibility to ensure that he returns back safely to his home country.
YoutubeVideo: Austin Tice still alive
Source: CNN/New York Times/McClatchy
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