In an ongoing effort to secure the release of Americans held captive in the Middle East, it has been revealed by the New York Times that CIA Director Mike Pompeo engaged in a back-channel conversation with a Syrian official, Ali Mamlouk, over the whereabouts of freelance journalist Austin Tice.
Mamlouk is a member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle and the director of the Syrian National Security Bureau, which oversees the intelligence activities of the government in Damascus.
It is reported Pompeo and Mamlouk spoke in a February phone conversation. The brief discussion reportedly did not yield any new information on Tice’s location or condition.
Tice, then 31, was last seen in Darayya, Syria, on Aug. 13, 2012. To date, no Syrian opposition group has claimed it holds Tice and Damascus has repeatedly denied holding him in captivity.
A symbol of revolt, Darayya was the site of anti-Assad protests in 2012 and was later enveloped in armed conflict between Syrian opposition groups and pro-Assad troops. Prior to a negotiated settlement in 2016, Darayya was largely under control of the Free Syrian Army.
Weeks after his abduction, in late September 2012, Tice appeared in a short video uploaded on a Facebook account of a user with ties to troops friendly to Damascus. No word of Tice has been heard since.
A Texas native, Tice served in the U.S. Marine Corps and turned to freelance journalism following his discharge. Attached to the Washington Post, McClatchy and CBS, Tice was part of a group of journalists associated with McClatchy which earned a George Polk Award for reporting from the Syrian battlefields.
The Tice family has kept vigil and created a website with updates on information relating to Austin’s captivity.
[New York Times] [AP] [Photo courtesy The Star-Telegram via McClatchy DC]