Lebanese intelligence chief says US wants his help in freeing missing Americans

Placeholder while loading article actions

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s intelligence chief said Thursday he met with Biden administration officials this week to discuss ways to help secure the release of six Americans detained or missing in Syria, including Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who contributed to The Washington Post.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of the Lebanese General Security Directorate, said in an interview that he received an invitation to the White House earlier this month to discuss missing Americans. The invitation came days after President Biden met with Tice’s parents.

Ibrahim, who helped secure the release of several hostages in the Middle East over the past decade, has been involved for years in efforts to locate Tice, who disappeared in Syria in 2012, along with other Americans. missing. “They wanted me to resume my efforts to resolve this issue,” he said, referring to his meetings this week with White House officials. “They wanted their people back, and that’s their goal.”

Syria releases US citizen captured while trying to visit all countries in the world

State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed Wednesday that Ibrahim had met with Roger Carstens, the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs. “We will not comment on the details of these discussions beyond the fact that we have no higher priority than seeing the safe release of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage around the world,” he said. Price said during a press briefing.

“Of course, we talked about the case of Austin Tice yesterday, an American who was — who was separated from his family for almost 10 years, who spent a quarter of his life separated from his family,” said Price. “He is always in the foreground. Other Americans who are detained in places like Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, Venezuela and elsewhere are always a priority for us as well.

Tice disappeared when he tried to leave the rebel town of Darayya, outside the Syrian capital, Damascus. Darayya was surrounded by government troops at the time. His family repeatedly said they were convinced he was alive. Syria has not publicly acknowledged holding Tice or the other Americans, including Majd Kamalmaz, a psychotherapist who went missing in 2017, and four other US citizens whose families do not want publicity.

Biden met with Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra Tice, on May 2 and “reaffirmed his commitment to continue to work in every way available to secure Austin’s long-awaited return to his family,” the statement said. White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement. the weather.

Ibrahim, who also met Debra Tice this week, said it had been “a long time” since any credible information had emerged about Austin Tice’s whereabouts.

“I want to tell everyone that she won’t give up at all,” he said of Tice’s mother. “I’m next to her with this. We want to close this file. Everyone is eager to do it.

This week marked the second time in less than two years that Ibrahim has been summoned by the White House to help find missing Americans. His previous trip, in October 2020, was to advance negotiations with the Syrian government that President Donald Trump had launched to help secure the Americans’ release.

Earlier that year, two senior US officials, including Carstens, traveled to Damascus for secret talks with the head of Syria’s intelligence agency over the fate of Tice, in the first formal talks between the two countries since 2012.

No sign Trump’s outreach in Syria has made headway on missing Americans

At the time of Ibrahim’s visit in 2020, there were disputes within the administration over how far it should go in its relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Another point of contention was the administration’s dealings with Ibrahim, whose position puts him in frequent contact with Hezbollah, a Lebanese government party designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Ibrahim dismissed these concerns as political issues that should not hamper his work. “We are talking about a humanitarian case,” he said Thursday.

Ibrahim helped secure the release of American traveler Sam Goodwin, who was detained at a Syrian government checkpoint in 2019, and a Canadian citizen, Kristian Baxter, who entered Syria illegally from Lebanon. In 2014, Ibrahim oversaw the release of a group of nuns abducted by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-linked group.

Ibrahim did not specify who he would meet in the Syrian government, adding that his efforts were best kept “in the shadows”. “When it’s in the spotlight, I think things are going to be messed up,” he said.

In the past, Syria had insisted on the full withdrawal of US troops from the country and the lifting of US sanctions as a condition for any further discussion of missing Americans, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

“I’m not sure what the Syrians want now,” Ibrahim said.

Fahim reported from Istanbul and Haidamous reported from Washington. Liz Sly in London and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.