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Kidnapped NBC Crew in Syria Escapes

Wed, December 19, 2012

The dramatic escape of NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew from Syrian kidnappers was revealed Tuesday after the men were freed and safely returned to Turkey.

The kidnapping occurred Thursday, December 13, shortly after the crew had crossed into northwest Syria from Turkey but was kept under wraps by NBC so as not to jeopardize their security.

A happy and relieved Engel was interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show. Engel described how they were kept bound and blind-folded and subjected to psychological torture.

Engels described how, while travelling with Syrian rebels, about 15 heavily armed, masked men suddenly appeared and stopped their vehicle. In the first moments, they were put in a waiting truck and their previous escort was executed. From there, they were moved to a series of safe houses and interrogation places.

For five days, NBC received no word or communication from the crew's captors, who Engels identified as mostly likely members of the Shabiha, a militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Engels said the kidnappers talked openly of their loyalty to Assad and to their Shia faith. He also they were told that the purpose of their capture was to exchanging them for Iranians and Lebanese held by the rebels.

Engels was thankful that he and his crew were not subjected to physical torture unlike reports of others who have been kidnapped in the worn-torn country.

Commenting on the psychological torture, Engel reported that, "They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. When we refused, there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot [producer Ghazi Balkiz ] several times," Engel said, adding that hearing a gun fired while blindfolded "can be a very traumatic experience."

The crew related how they told each other jokes to keep up each other’s spirits. One crew member said he had "made good with my maker" and with himself, and that he had been "prepared to die many times."

The rescue happened as the kidnappers were moving their captives to another location and ran into an opposition checkpoint. A gunfight ensued in which two of the kidnappers were killed. All members of the NBC crew escaped unharmed.

Engel and his crew then spent the night with their rescuers before crossing into Turkey Tuesday morning.

"We're very happy to be here. We're in good health. We're OK," a smiling Engel told the "Today" show from Antakya.