Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, and two of his crewmembers escaped Monday after they were kidnapped, psychologically tortured and held in captivity for five days inside Syria, Engel – standing with his two colleagues in Antakya, Turkey – said in a live broadcast on Tuesday’s Today show.
“It is good to be here,” said Engel, looking fit and sounding erudite as ever. “I’m very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning.”
Engel, 39, was with producer Ghazi Balkiz and cameraman John Kooistra to report on the insurgency that is fighting President Bashar al-Assad in the troubled country. He said Tuesday, “We were driving in Syria about five days ago in what we thought was a rebel-controlled area. We were with some of the rebels.”
Suddenly, he said, “a group of gunmen just literally jumped out of the trees and bushes on the side of the road. There were about 15 gunmen. They were wearing masks. They were heavily armed. They dragged us out of the car.”
The gunmen placed them in a truck that was waiting by the side of the road, said Engel, who also reported that one of the rebels with them “was executed on the spot.”
“They took us to a series of safe house and interrogation places, and they kept us blindfolded and bound.”
While the men were not physically tortured, Engel said, they were psychologically tortured, with threats that they would be killed, amid demands – and mock shootings – that they pick which one of them should be killed first.
They managed their escape as they were being moved to another location, said Engel. “The kidnappers ran across a rebel checkpoint they didn’t expect.” During the gunfire, two of the kidnappers were killed, and the three men “climbed out of the vehicles, and we spent the night with the rebels.”
Engel pronounced the three of them to be in good health and expressed his thanks to NBC News for keeping the story quiet until they were free and for keeping their families informed during the harrowing ordeal. He said he believes the kidnappers were those loyal to President al-Assad.