Video shows US journo in hands of Syrian rebels – but is it fake?
Experts cast doubt on the origins of footage appearing to show missing Austin Tice in custody of jihadist Syrian militants
A 47-SECOND video clip of missing US freelance journalist Austin Tice has surfaced online, almost two months after his disappearance in Syria. Previously believed to be in government custody, the footage appears to show that Tice has actually fallen into the hands of a rebel jihadist group.
Although the footage was uploaded to YouTube on 26 September, it did not come to light until Monday when it appeared on a Facebook page associated with supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime.
The video shows Tice being led along rocky ground, flanked by what appear to be jihadists toting assault rifles. At one point Tice, visibly distressed, falteringly recites an Arabic prayer before saying “Jesus... oh Jesus.” His captors are heard saying: “Allahu al-Akbar” (God is great) and “takhbir”, (praise).
However, experts have warned that the video might have been staged by the Syrian government in an attempt to discredit the opposition, who are waging a bitter war against the Assad regime.
The Washington Post reports a number of discrepancies that mark the video out from others uploaded by opposition groups. These include the clothing of Tice’s apparent captors, the production quality of the film, and the manner in which it was distributed online.
Joseph Holliday, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, notes that the militants wear freshly-pressed traditional Afghan dress, which would mark the first time Syrian rebels have been seen in such garb.
Holliday says the video shows a “caricature” of a jihadi group: “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 US and others about the danger of al-Qaeda extremists in Syria. It would fit their narrative perfectly.”
Commenting last night, US government spokeswoman Victoria Nuland would not be drawn on the veracity of the tape, but stated that the Obama administration continued to believe that the journalist remained in Syrian government custody.
The Syrian crisis has been the most deadly conflict for journalists since the start of the Arab Spring in January last year. According to the New York-based Committee to Project Journalists, at least 19 reporters and cameramen have died since November.