Skip to main content

Video appears to show missing U.S. journalist blindfolded and in distress

By the CNN Wire Staff
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Austin Tice, a freelance journalist, went missing in Syria in mid-August
  • A U.S. official says it is believed Tice was detained by Syrian government forces
  • Tice's family and two news organizations say a video shows Tice alive, but in distress
  • The video's circumstances are unclear; a U.S. official questions whether it was staged

(CNN) -- A video uploaded to YouTube shows a blindfolded American freelance journalist, in obvious distress, weeks after he was last heard from in Syria.

The two news organizations he worked for -- McClatchy Newspapers and the Washington Post -- both identified Austin Tice in the video, which was posted online to YouTube on September 26.

And the missing journalist's father, Marc Tice, Monday read to CNN a family statement that said: "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."

Still, the circumstances surrounding the 47-second video -- including when and where it was shot, as well as specifically who it depicts -- remain unclear.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos
Official: Syria a victim of terrorism
Syrian foreign minister to address UN
Fighting rages on in Damascus, Aleppo

'Massacre' alleged as Syria slams outside 'interference'

The shaky video, apparently shot on a cell-phone, is set in a remote and rugged area. Men armed with machine guns -- and, in one case, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher -- are depicted talking loudly as they lead a man -- believed to be Tice -- up a hill.

The camera then focuses on the man, dressed unlike the others, in tattered clothes and with his eyes covered by a large blindfold.

Clearly distressed, he says a garbled prayer in Arabic. He then adds, "Oh Jesus, oh Jesus," before adding in Arabic, "Oh Allah."

Tice's last public post on Twitter was August 11, when he wrote about attending a pool party with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Opposition: No Syrian is willing to talk with the 'killers' in the government

According to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, U.S. authorities believe that Tice was detained some time soon thereafter by Syrian authorities -- though the Damascus government has not admitted taking him into custody.

The 31-year-old American was believed to have been working in the Syrian capital and preparing to leave at the time he went missing, according to reports.

The video was posted on a Facebook page supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with a message saying it will make "many Western media outlets ... embarrassed for blaming Syrian security forces for his detention."

A version of the video posted on YouTube by someone aligned with the opposition, meanwhile, asserted that it "stages (a) fake 'jihadi' video" and that al-Assad's forces are to blame for Tice's abduction.

There is no obvious indication as to who was with Tice, why he was outside being walked up a hill, or even why the video was shot in the first place. The footage differs significantly from others in recent memory showing kidnappers and their captives.

Syria district razed, displacing thousands

Nuland, from the State Department, confirmed Monday that U.S. officials had seen the video but questioned its veracity.

"We are not in a position to verify, A, whether it's him; and B, whether it represents an actual scene that happened or something that may have been staged," the spokeswoman said. "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."

Mark Seibel, a McClatchy spokesman, said he didn't think that Tice knew how to speak Arabic. The news organization's vice president of news, Anders Gyllenhaal, used the video to again call for the American to be freed.

"Austin Tice is a journalist, risking his life to tell the story of what's happening in Syria to the rest of the world," Gyllenhaal said in a statement. "We ask in the strongest possible terms for his immediate release."

Tice's family did not lay blame with anyone in the war-torn country, instead acknowledging the difficulties there and expressing thanks for all those who have offered their thoughts and prayers on behalf of Austin in recent weeks.

"It is evident that the current events in Syria are challenging and difficult for everyone involved," the family said. "Our wish is that peace and stability can once again return to the people of Syria and that our treasured son Austin will soon be returned safely to our family."

Analysis: Sympathy, but few solutions, regarding Syria

CNN's Dave Alsup, Samira Said, Roba Alhenawi and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Syria has submitted a revised proposal "that aims to complete the removal of all chemicals" from the country before the end of April.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1032 GMT (1832 HKT)
CNN's Arwa Damon reports on ISIS defector who says destroying ISIS as critical as defeating regime.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0353 GMT (1153 HKT)
The U.S. wants a United Nations resolution that will, among other things, bring humanitarian aid for refugees in Syria.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
When the radical Islamist militia ISIS arrived in the Syrian town of Addana a year ago, many welcomed them. What followed changed their minds.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
CNN obtained video clips from Syrian activists documenting the atrocities committed by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 2017 GMT (0417 HKT)
On Crossfire, Danielle Pletka discusses what the U.S. needs to do to resolve the Syria crisis.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 0101 GMT (0901 HKT)
Her almond-shaped brown eyes shine through her sunken face as a doctor lifts her sweater to reveal a tiny rib cage pushing against her skin.
February 4, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is home to around 100,000 Syrian refugees. CNN spent several days meeting the residents of the camp.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts have found "direct evidence" of "torture and killing" by the Assad regime.
Traumatized children who have witnessed the horrors of war are being helped to read -- and rebuild a normal life. CNN's Becky Anderson reports.
January 23, 2014 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
A battle zone tour organized by the Syrian government for CNN and several other media outlets Wednesday was more than bizarre.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1735 GMT (0135 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert meets with the family of a little girl who was wounded in Syria, now living in a refugee camp.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
110 year old, Jabari Alawali walked for over 10 hours to reach Jordan from Syria.
ADVERTISEMENT