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
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT