NBC’s En­gel, crew es­cape Syr­ian cap­tors

En­gel, oth­ers held for five days by As­sad sup­port­ers.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Elizabeth A. Kennedy AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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