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Inside Syria

Mystery of captured University of Houston journalist only deepens: Who are those masked gunmen?

Austin Tice, still alive, October 2012
A screenshot from the recently released video showing Austin Tice blindfolded and being held captive Khalidfree75/YouTube
Austin Tice, journalist, head shot
Head shot of the 31-year-old Tice missing in Syria

In a grainy 47-second video published on YouTube, freelance photojournalist Austin Tice is shown alive, blindfolded and led by a group of men with guns to recite a prayer in Arabic.

It's the first evidence in six weeks that Tice is alive. A Georgetown law student and former Marine who was raised in Houston and attended the University of Houston, Tice had been reporting on the civil war in Syria since May and last made contact with colleagues via email on Aug. 13.

 “Though it is difficult to see our eldest son in such a setting and situation as that depicted in the video, it is reassuring that he appears to be unharmed." 

“Knowing Austin is alive and well is comforting to our family,” parents Marc and Debra Tice said in a statement to McClatchy Company newspapers, one of the news agencies that published Tice's work.

“Though it is difficult to see our eldest son in such a setting and situation as that depicted in the video, it is reassuring that he appears to be unharmed. It is evident that the current events in Syria are challenging and difficult for everyone involved. 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 safely returned to our family.”

Though the undated video purports to show Tice in the custody of Islamist militants, the details of how it was produced and released have led many to conclude that Tice is being held by the Syrian government or other forces in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The video first came to the attention of news agencies after links were posted to it from a pro-Assad Facebook page and Twitter account, and according to The New York Times,

Several analysts said that the video appeared to be staged and that it lacked the customary form and polish of jihadist videos. The men hid their faces, and no group was identified claiming responsibility for Mr. Tice’s capture or the video, which was originally posted on YouTube by an unknown user instead of on a jihadist Web site, as militant groups prefer.

In the video, the call-and-response of “God is great” seems unpracticed and out of sync. The captors are dressed in freshly pressed Afghan dress never seen before among Syrian rebels. And it was unusual for Islamist militants to force Mr. Tice, a non-Muslim, to recite a Muslim prayer for a video . . .

The Facebook posting declared, “The American journalist Austin Tice is with the Nusra Front gangs and al Qaida in Syria,” a well-known group of Islamist Syrian opposition fighters. But the group releases its own videos through its own channels, and if this clip had been produced by a militant opposition group, it was unclear why it was being disseminated on pro-Assad Web sites."

Responding to the video on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Department could not verify whether the scene was real or staged.

"There’s a lot of reason for the Syrian government to duck responsibility, but we continue to believe that, to the best of our knowledge, we think he is in Syrian government custody,” Nuland said.

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