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Nearly five years after their son was taken captive in Syria, the parents of journalist Austin Tice believe he is still alive and remain hopeful he’ll return home safely.
The freelance journalist went missing just days after his 31st birthday in August 2012 while reporting from Syria. Aside from a brief video released five weeks later showing Tice blindfolded and bound, his parents have not heard from him since.
“It’s turned our lives inside out and upside down,” Marc Tice said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with TODAY.
The Tices have worked tirelessly to bring their son home, even going as far as living briefly in the Syrian capital of Damascus to find more information.
“I tried to meet with anyone that I could meet with, raise awareness about my son, ask for anyone with information to reach out to me,” Debra Tice recounted.
But the couple failed to make any new contacts, they said.
However, they revealed that U.S. government officials have told them there is reason to believe their son is alive.
The New York Times reported last week that CIA director Mike Pompeo spoke with a Syrian regime official in February to set up a “back channel” to free Tice.
But those talks apparently stalled after the White House authorized a missile strike in response to the Syrian government’s nerve gas attack on civilians in April.
And last week, the White House issued a statement warning that the Syrian government appeared to be planning another chemical weapons attack. It warned the al-Assad regime would “pay a heavy price” if such an attack was carried out.
But Marc Tice said his son’s case is not a foreign policy matter.
“The effort to bring Austin home it’s a humanitarian effort,” he said. “It’s not a political effort, it’s not a national security effort. We trust and we believe and we hope that whatever needs to be done will be done on a humanitarian basis.”
They also defended their son's decision to go to a dangerous, war-torn region, saying that their son went to Syria so "the rest of us can see the story, hear the story and know what was going on."
"Just like any American — our government has a responsibility, there are international treaties around the requirement of governments to take care of their citizens," Marc Tice said. "And we think that anyone else would like the same for their child, their loved one."
"We’re so proud that he’s an award-winning journalist, but to us, he’s the oldest son, the big brother," Debra Tice added.