WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on Damascus to help repatriate an American journalist who disappeared in Syria a decade ago, making a direct plea as pressure mounts on the White House from families of hostages and detainees.
Austin Tice, a freelance reporter and former US Marine, was kidnapped in August 2012 at the age of 31 while reporting in Damascus on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
His family believes he is alive and is still being held in Syria. The identity of Tice’s captors is unknown and no responsibility for his abduction has been claimed. Washington says the Syrian government has held it in the past, a charge Damascus denies.
In issuing a statement on the 10th anniversary of Tice’s captivity, Biden said his administration “has repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so we can bring Austin home.”
Biden added: “I’m calling on Syria to end this and help us bring it home.”
Washington suspended its diplomatic presence in Syria in 2012 with the start of the country’s civil war. In 2020, during the administration of former President Donald Trump, a White House official visited Damascus to secretly meet with the Syrian government seeking the release of Tice and another American.
The plight of Tice and other Americans detained abroad gained visibility after the February arrest in Russia of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced last week to nine years in prison after a Russian court found her guilty. of drug charges. Biden called the sentence “unacceptable.”
Families of hostages and detainees have collectively begun raising their voices to urge Biden to prioritize the issue and take action, such as organizing more prisoner swaps with foreign governments.
Biden signed an executive order last month aimed at deterring and punishing the wrongful detention of Americans abroad by authorizing government agencies to impose sanctions and other measures.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; editing by John Stonestreet)