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:
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: NBC NEWS/AP Photo]