New York, NY, United States (4E) – A five-man crew of NBC News kidnapped in Syria by unknown gunmen since Thursday escaped unharmed after an encounter between their captors and rebels near the northwestern town of Ma’arrat Misrin on Monday.
NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, producer Ghazi Balkiz, cameraman John Kooistra and two other crew members were back Tuesday in Turkey, from where they entered Syria to cover the civil war.
Engel, 39, appeared on the Today show Tuesday to tell that their captors were members of the pro-government militia Shabiha and they tried to swap the journalists for four Iranian agents and two Lebanese comrades being held by Syrian rebels. During their five-day captivity, they were tied up, blindfolded, interrogated, moved from place to place and threatened to be shot, according to Engel.
The militia and the crew drove into a rebel checkpoint Monday leading to a gunfight that killed two captors. The other captors fled and left the captives. The rebels from the Ahrar al- Sham brigade then brought the NBC crew back to Turkey.
NBC News kept mum on the kidnapping of the employees for fear that attracting media attention may endanger their lives.