A video appearing to show missing freelance journalist Austin Tice (SFS ’02, LAW ’13) alive and in the custody of masked gunmen has surfaced on YouTube, though experts have cast doubt on the video’s authenticity.
Tice had been reporting in Syria for several news outlets, including The Washington Post, when he disappeared in mid-August. Although Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Post, said that the paper was conducting an investigation into Tice’s whereabouts, there had been no news of his condition or location for seven weeks prior to the video’s release.
The 47-second video was uploaded to a newly created YouTube account on Sept. 26, but the footage itself is undated. The clip, entitled “Austin Tice still alive,” shows a long-haired man with a scruffy beard who resembles Tice being led into the desert blindfolded and accompanied by armed men. The masked men chant “Allahu al-Akbar” — Arabic for “God is great” — and the man resembling Ticerecites a phrase in broken Arabic. At the end of the video, the blindfolded man cries out, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus,” in English.
Tice’s parents released a statement confirming their belief that the man in the clip is their son.
“Knowing Austin is alive and well is comforting to our family,” the statement began. “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.”
Although the video indicates that Tice is alive and being held by Islamic extremists, experts have expressed skepticism about the legitimacy of the footage. Joseph Holliday, a senior research analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War who specializes in the study of the ongoing crisis in Syria, told The Washington Post that the video appears to have been staged.
“It’s like a caricature of a jihadi group,” he told The Post. “My gut instinct is that regime security guys dressed up like a bunch of wahoos and dragged him around and released the video to scare the [United States] and others about the danger of al-Qaeda extremists in Syria. It would fit their narrativeperfectly.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Post that she could not affirm the video’s validity, though she did say that the State Department believes Tice is in the custody of the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has denied any knowledge of Tice’swhereabouts.
The Syrian civil war is among the most violent of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and presents a particular danger for members of the media. Twenty-one journalists have been killed in the country since November 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.