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Freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria in 2012.
Freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria in 2012. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Syrian President Bashar Assad has the power to free Austin Tice, an American journalist and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who went missing while covering the war there nine years ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

Marking the anniversary of Tice’s captivity, and his 40th birthday, Blinken said he was personally committed to securing his freedom.

“He turns 40 years old today, having spent almost a quarter of his life in captivity,” Blinken said in a statement. “I am personally committed to bringing home all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.

“We believe that it is within Bashar al-Assad’s power to free Austin,” he said. “We will continue to pursue all avenues to bring Austin home. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and the broader team are working diligently and around the clock to bring Austin back to his family.

“Austin Tice must be allowed to return home to his loved ones who miss him dearly and to the country that awaits him eagerly,” Blinken said.

Biden administration officials have told McClatchy that they are operating “with the sincere belief” that Tice is alive.

The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, a team of experts from different government agencies that gathers diplomatic leads and intelligence information together in one place, is pursuing the Tice case.

Tice was detained at age 31 at a checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus. Five weeks later, a video was released showing him held by unidentified armed men.

No one has claimed responsibility for his disappearance.

Carstens was appointed by former President Donald Trump in March 2020, and has been kept on by President Joe Biden. Carstens participated in direct talks with Syrian government officials last year that broke down quickly after the Syrians refused to provide any information of Tice’s whereabouts, officials said.

The Biden administration is still reviewing its policy toward Syria and officials would not comment on whether direct talks over Tice have continued.

Tice was born in Texas and served as an officer of the United States Marine Corps.

He was a student at Georgetown Law School in 2012 when he traveled to Syria as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and other news organizations.

©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

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