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Video claims Marine vet a hostage in Syria

Oct. 1, 2012 - 07:27PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 1, 2012 - 07:27PM  |  
Former-Marine-turned-freelance-journalist Austin Tice is seen in Cairo in this March 2012 photo.
Former-Marine-turned-freelance-journalist Austin Tice is seen in Cairo in this March 2012 photo. (Christy Wilcox / AFP via GettyImages)
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A video has surfaced purporting to show the Marine-turned-journalist who went missing nearly two months ago while on assignment in war-ravaged Syria.

The 47-second clip, which was posted Sept. 26 to the social media website YouTube, appears to depict 31-year-old Austin Tice alive and in the custody of armed militants. Blindfolded and frightened, the former Marine infantry officer is seen being led up a rocky hill by men chanting "God is great." He can be heard speaking in Arabic and then saying "Oh Jesus" before the video ends abruptly.

Tice, who left the Corps earlier this year as a captain, was one of the few foreign journalists reporting inside Syria about the civil war that has left thousands dead. He arrived there in May and had been reporting from Damascus since late July for various media outlets, including McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post and Al Jazeera English. Tice was last heard from on Aug. 13. Information from Syrian rebel supporters previously indicated he was captured near Daraya by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The video, titled "Austin Tice still alive," drew skepticism from U.S. officials and others who suggest it raises more questions than it answers

State Department officials have seen the footage but could not confirm its authenticity, said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the agency. She told reporters Monday that U.S. officials continue to believe Tice is in the Syrian government's custody.

"We've seen the video," she said during a press briefing in Washington. "We are not in a position to verify whether it's him, whether it represents an actual scene that happened or something that may have been 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."

Similarly, Tice's editors at McClatchy said not enough information had surfaced to draw any conclusion other than that Tice was captured alive.

The shaky video begins with a moving convoy of vehicles before cutting to a group of armed men dressed in clothing traditionally worn by fighters in Afghanistan, according to a McClatchy report. A man is seen behind Tice holding what appears to be a rocket propelled grenade.

"This is definitely out of the ordinary. The clothing is really strange," said Bill Roggio, senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Editor of The Long War Journal. "Typically when we've seen the Syrian jihadists, they're in military fatigues or masks. The clothing was wrong."

Roggio noted, too, that the method in which the video was released is atypical from other hostage videos he's familiar with. Notably, he said, there's no accompanying statement.

"These videos are released for a purpose," Roggio said. "There's a specific propaganda purpose, and it's not just to say ‘he's alive.' It's to say ‘he's alive and we want something from you.' "

Al-Nusra Front, one of the Syrian jihadist groups fighting Assad's forces, would be considered one of the primary suspects, Roggio said, but the video's sloppy production value does not match that of others released by the group.

"Al-Nusra Front is disciplined in their propaganda," Roggio said. "This is Mickey Mouse."

Before he went missing, Tice communicated frequently about his activity on the ground and last posted to his Twitter account on Aug. 11. Initially, his lack of communication did not raise flags with his editors because Tice had planned to travel to the border and delays were expected due to the fighting.

According to Tice's LinkedIn profile, he left the Corps in January after serving for seven years, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his military career he served as a joint terminal attack controller, and as an infantry platoon and company commander. He studied international politics at Georgetown University from 1999 to 2002, before entering the Marine Corps, and is currently a law student there.

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