NBC correspondent escapes Syria kidnapping
In this image made from video, NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, right, shakes hands with an unidentified person after crossing back into Turkey, after they were freed unharmed following a firefight at a checkpoint after five days of captivity inside Syria, in Cilvegozu, Turkey, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Engel told the Turkish news agency Anadolu that he and his colleagues are "very happy to be out" and they are "very tired." (AP Photo/Anadolu via AP TV) TURKEY OUT, TV OUT
BEIRUT (AP) — NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said he and his television crew were kidnapped for five days by pro-regime gunmen who subjected them to mock executions and kept them bound and blindfolded. They escaped during a firefight between their captors and rebels and reached Turkey on Tuesday.
However, it was not immediately clear whether all those abducted with Engel were accounted for.
Speaking to NBC's "Today" show one day after the escape, an unshaven Engel said the kidnappers executed at least one of his rebel escorts on the spot at the time he was captured. He also said he believes the kidnappers were a Shiite militia group loyal to the Syrian government, which is fighting a deadly civil war against rebels.
This undated photo provided by NBC News shows Richard Engel at the end of a reporting trip in Syria in July 2012. NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his production team were released unharmed Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, after being held captive for five days inside Syria by an "unknown group," the network says. Engel, 39, has been reporting on the Syrian civil war. (AP Photo/NBC News) MANDATORY CREDIT TO "NBC News"
"They kept us blindfolded, bound," said 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 made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused, there were mock shootings," he added.
"They were talking openly about their loyalty to the government," Engel said. He said the captors were trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group.
Both Iran and Hezbollah are close allies of the embattled Syrian regime, which has become a global pariah since it unleashed its forces in March 2011 to crush mostly peaceful protests against the regime. The bloody crackdown on protests led many in Syria to take up arms against the government, and the conflict has morphed into a civil war.