Finally, some good news. Richard Engel, NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent, and two of his production team members — cameraman John Kooistra and producer Ghazi Balkiz — were freed from their abductors in Syria on Monday after being held in captivity for five days. The team was abducted on Thursday, and NBC did not hear from them until Monday, when the team was discovered in the back of a captors' van at a Syrian rebel checkpoint. Tuesday morning the freed crew conducted a special interview from Antakya, Turkey with the Today show to disclose the details of their capture, which included psychological torture. "It is good to be here,” Engel said. “I’m very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning.”
The capture occurred when Engel and his crew were traveling with Syrian rebels from Turkey to Northeast Syria. 15 armed men jumped from a bush and grabbed them, and one of the escorted rebels was killed on the spot. During their captivity, the three men were psychologically tortured, as their captors pretended to execute the other men while they were blindfolded and tied up. "We weren't physically beaten or tortured," Engel said. "[But] it was a lot of psychological torture — threats of being killed."
So who were Engel's captors? Engel believes that they were loyalists to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and possibly members of the "Shabiha" militia (the militia is "trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and allied with Lebanon-based group Hezbollah," according to NBC News). It is believed that the loyalists planned to use Engel's group as a negotiation tool to get the rebels to free some of their captives.
Luckily, on Monday, Engel's captors' plans went awry when they were caught at a Syrian rebel checkpoint, trying to move the NBC crew. At the checkpoint, a gunfight occurred — two of the captors were killed, and an uncounted number of them escaped.
Engel, Kooistra, and Balkiz were not physically harmed by the incident. As of Tuesday morning, they remain in Turkey.
Watch the crew's interview with Today below:
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[Photo Credit: NBC NEWS/AP Photo]
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
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Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.