NBC’s Engel, crew escape Syrian captors
Engel, others held for five days by Assad supporters.
NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel and colleagues escape unharmed after five days of captivity. Pro-regime gunmen had dragged them from their car, killed one of their rebel escorts and subjected them to mock executions.
BEIRUT — NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said Tuesday he and members of his network crew escaped unharmed after five days of captivity in Syria, where more than a dozen pro-regime gunmen dragged them from their car, killed one of their rebel escorts and subjected them to mock executions.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, an unshaven Engel said he and his team escaped during a firefight Monday night between their captors and rebels at a checkpoint. They crossed into Turkey on Tuesday.
NBC did not say how many people were kidnapped with Engel, although two other men, producer Ghazi Balkiz and photographer John Kooistra, appeared with him on the “Today” show. It was not confirmed whether everyone was accounted for.
Engel said he believes the kidnappers were a Shiite militia group loyal to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, which has lost control over swaths of the country’s north and is increasingly on the defensive in a civil war that has killed 40,000 people since March 2011.
“They kept us blindfolded, bound,” said the 39-year-old Engel, who speaks and reads Arabic. “We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. A lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed.”
“They were talking openly about their loyalty to the government,” Engel said.
Engel said he was told the kidnappers wanted to exchange him and his crew for four Iranian and two Lebanese prisoners being held by the rebels.
“They captured us in order to carry out this exchange,” he said.
Engel and his crew entered Syria on Thursday and were driving through what they thought was rebel-controlled territory when “a group of gunmen just lit- erally jumped out of the trees and bushes on the side of the road.”
Around 11 p.m. Monday, Engel said he and the others were being moved to another location in northern Idlib province.
The kidnappers came to a rebel checkpoint and started a gunfight.
“Two of the kidnappers were killed” Engel said. “We climbed out of the vehicle and the rebels took us. We spent the night with them.”
Engel and his crew crossed back into Turkey on Tuesday.
Richard Engel (right) is NBC’s chief foreign corespondent. An amateur video image posted on the Internet shows NBC correspondent Richard Engel (above, center) with colleagues as hostages of Syrians loyal to Bashar Assad.