The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has set up a back channel to Syria in an attempt to free an American hostage there, according to a new report.
The move to free former Marine officer Austin Tice came after Mike Pompeo was elected to lead the CIA during the early days of President Donald Trump’s time in the White House, The New York Times reported Friday, citing administration officials.
Pompeo even talked to Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau intelligence service, over the phone, the highest-level contact between Washington and Damascus in years.
The phone call, followed by more high-profile communications between the two governments, raised hopes for Tice’s freedom, officials noted.
However, the effort fell flat after Trump’s authorization in April of a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase that Washington claimed was being used to carry out chemical attacks on civilians, a claim that was never backed up by evidence.
US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo (Photo by AFP)
Syria has firmly denied the unsubstantiated claims by former White House officials that Tice was being held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Austin Tice is not in the hands of Syrian authorities, and we don’t have any information about him at all,” Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the media last year.
Tice, a Texan, traveled to Syria before his final year in Georgetown Law School and worked as a freelance journalist before being abducted by unknown parties in August 2012.
Later on, video footage emerged showing him blindfolded and surrounded by militants.
According to the report, some former US officials tried to brief Trump on his team on Tice’s situation after the Republican president’s January 20 inauguration.
They discussed the matter with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon only to be met with a cold response. The latter even asked why Tice had traveled to Syria in the first place.
The issue of US hostages and prisoners abroad jumped to the spotlight after the last week death of Otto Warmbier, an alleged American spy in North Korea who returned to the US while comatose and died shortly after.
The Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group has released several propaganda videos appearing to show a number of US citizens being executed.