NBC's Engel, TV crew escape abduction in Syria
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 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. Another member of Engel's team, Aziz Akyavas of Turkey, also escaped. It was not confirmed whether everyone was accounted for.
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"
Engel said he believes the kidnappers were a Shiite militia group loyal to the Syrian government, 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 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, but he did not elaborate.