SyriaNBC crew freed after a firefight between the kidnappers and anti-regime rebels
A NBC reporter and four men from his film crew were freed Monday from kidnappers in Syria which kept them tied up, blindfolded, and repeatedly threatened to kill them for five days
A NBC reporter and four men from his film crew were freed Monday from kidnappers in Syria which kept them tied up, blindfolded, and repeatedly threatened to kill them for five days.
CNN reports that Richard Engel, and four other men were taken by a group of masked and heavily armed men soon after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey last Thursday. For the next five days the crew was moved into and out of a series of safe houses. Engel says that while they were never physically harmed, they were subjected to “a lot of psychological torture” and death threats.
“They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. When we refused, there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot him several times,” he said, referring to producer Ghazi Balkiz. Hearing a gun fired while blindfolded “can be a very traumatic experience,” Engel told the “TodayShow.”
Engel, Balkiz, and John Kooistra said they used jokes to keep their spirits up while being captive.
There was no claim of responsibility for the kidnapping, no contact with the captors, and no request for ransom according to NBC.
On Monday news came that the crew had been freed after their captors hit a rebel checkpoint while moving the crew to another site. Two of the captors were killed in the ensuing fight, but the crew was unharmed. The crew spent the night in Syria with rebels and was escorted to Turkey the next day.
“We’re very happy to be here. We’re in good health. We’re OK,” Engel told the “Today” show from Antakya, still wearing the same clothes he was held in but smiling broadly.
Engel also talked about how fortunate the crew was to be freed while many others live in constant fear everyday while fight takes place between rebel forces and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Conflicting reports emerged about who captured and freed the crew. Engel said the Shabiha, a militia loyal to President Assad, kidnapped them. According to Engel, while they were being held captive, the captors talked openly of their allegiance to Assad and the Shia faith.
The Observatory cited a rebel who participated in the fight to free the crew, that followers of the Assad regime committed the kidnapping. Before the Observatory’s report, NBC said that the captors were from an unknown group “not believed to be loyal to the Assad regime.”