Family Working for Journalist’s Release Plans Visit to Lebanon

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(CNN) — The family of an American journalist believed to be held in Syria is planning a trip to Lebanon to help get him home, hopefully by the Thanksgiving holiday.

Debra Tice and her family are working for the release of her 31-year-old son, freelance journalist Austin Tice. He was in Syria on his way to Lebanon when the Tice family lost contact with him in August. In September, he showed up in a YouTube video blindfolded and held by gunpoint.

“Each November, our family gathers to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, a time of shukr, when we feast and give thanks for all our blessings,” Debra Tice said in a statement Thursday, using the Arabic word for thankfulness. “Right now, there is an aching hole in our family, a beloved son who is missing from our table.”

Those holding her son, she said, have the responsibility “to keep him safe, care for his needs and return him to us quickly, so our family can be complete when we celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving.”

“Someone knows where Austin is, someone has the power to reach him and to restore him to our family. We ask that person, those people, to show compassion. Allow Austin to contact us, release him to come home,” she said. Tice said the family is planning to visit Beirut soon.

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

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 on August 11, when he wrote about attending a pool party with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army. His mother said the family lost contact with him on August 13.

He was believed to have been working in Damascus when he went missing, according to reports.

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.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. authorities believe that Syrian authorities detained Tice soon after, though the Damascus government has not said that it took him into custody.

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 has been embroiled in warfare, a crisis now in its 20th month. The tensions rippling through Syria have spilled over to neighboring Lebanon, and disappearances have been a grim feature of the Syrian civil war. Debra Tice said her family is aware that thousands of Syrian and Lebanese families have loved ones “who simply disappear” and are wracked with anxiety.

“As we work to be reunited with our son, we are keenly aware of the many families in this region who are also living with uncertainty and longing,” she said.

She said her son’s love for the people of the region “compelled him to come here as a journalist. We know it is also his fervent hope that these children and their families may live in peace.”

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