Chief NBC foreign news correspondent Richard Engel and his crew-mates are free after being taken captive. Engel described it as an Iranian-trained Shiite group known as the “Shabiha” militia, loyal to Bashar al-Assad and the current crumbling government of Syria, and allied with the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.
Engle and the other captives returned with bandages made from their bed sheets, although their captors reportedly only tortured them psychologically, blindfolding them and preparing mock-executions, pretending to shoot them while firing a gun in the air.
Engle’s last report before being taken hostage was on December 13th from Aleppo, Syria. According to Engle, the loyalist group of about 15 gunmen “jumped out of the trees and bushes” and took them all hostage, executing one of the rebels “on the spot.”
“We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed,” said Engel. “They made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot Ghazi [Balkiz, an NBC producer] several times.”
According to Balkiz, the three of them “worked with each other very well… we kept each other’s spirits up.” Said cameraman John Kooistra, “I made good with my maker” and was “prepared to die many times.”
Their kidnappers were attempting to move by vehicle to a new location until confrontation at a checkpoint manned by Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham escalated into gunfire. Two of the captors were killed while others fled, and the hostages were able to exit the vehicle unharmed.
Although the Turkish media began reporting Monday about the disappearance of Engel, as well as a Turkish correspondent working for NBC named Aziz Akyavas, most worldwide news organizations kept quiet. This has become a standard measure in these circumstances, so as not to reward the kidnappers with the publicity they seek, and increase the likelihood of the prisoners being released alive.
Twitter and other social networking has made such life-and-death secrecy more difficult to keep than even a few months ago. Similarly in 2008, most news outlets did not report on the Taliban kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde until seven months later, after he had successfully made his way to safety.
Richard Engel Freed After Kidnapping In Syria
Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, was freed Monday from capture in Syria following a firefight, five days after being kidnapped.
NBC News president Steve Capus said in a statement Tuesday that Engel, 39, and his crew were freed unharmed after being taken by an unknown group. “We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country,” Capus said.