An online video appears to provide the first glimpse of American journalist Austin Tice since he went missing in Syria in August, showing the former Marine blindfolded and uttering, “Oh Jesus, oh Jesus,” between the Arabic words of a Muslim prayer.
But the short video, labeled "Austin Tice still live," which was uploaded last week and spread in Western media Monday, does not look like a typical Islamic extremist video, analysts said. The U.S. State Department said it still believes Tice is in Syrian government custody.
"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 U.S. and others about the danger of Al Qaeda extremists in Syria," Joseph Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War told the Washington Post.
For instance, the men in the video wore Afghan clothing that wasn’t typical among Syrian rebels, Holliday pointed out, and nobody directly addressed the camera, a usual feature of extremist videos. It was disseminated through online groups that back Syrian President Bashar Assad, not the channels usually used by Islamist groups.
The Syrian government has repeatedly argued that it is under assault by foreign terrorists who must be stopped, and emphasized the risks of religious extremists gaining ground.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday that the department could not verify whether the video represents an actual scene or something that was staged.
Tice's parents told several media outlets that their son does appear in the clip, a sight they said was reassuring despite the situation it depicted.
Tice is among several foreign journalists who have been reported missing in what Reporters Without Borders has called “a Bermuda Triangle for journalists.” At the time of his disappearance, he was reporting for the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other outlets.Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which says at least 23 foreign and local correspondents have been killed while covering the conflict since November.
The Syrian death toll in the conflict continued to rise. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based pro-opposition group, said more than 110 Syrians were killed Tuesday, including civilians, rebels and members of government forces, in clashes across the country. The United Nations news agency says more than 18,000 people are believed to have died since the uprising began last year; opposition activists have estimated the death toll significantly higher, in excess of 30,000 people.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: This image taken from a video posted to YouTube appears to be American journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in August. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the origin or the content of the clip. Credit: Associated Press