NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and two of his crewmembers are lucky to be alive following a kidnapping ordeal in Syria. Engel appeared on the Today show Tuesday morning along with producer Ghazi Balkiz and cameraman John Kooistra to talk about the five days of psychological torture they endured at the hands of their abductors.
The trio entered northwest Syria from Turkey last Thursday to report on the rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. They were ambushed by about 15 heavily armed gunmen as they drove through a rebel-held area with rebel fighters. One of the rebels was “executed on the spot” while Engel, Balkiz and Kooistra were forced into a waiting vehicle. What followed was nearly 5 days of brutal interrogations and constant movement to different safe houses.
"They took us to a series of safe house and interrogation places, and they kept us blindfolded and bound,” Engel revealed.
The men were not harmed physically during interrogations, but they were subjected to psychological torture and death threats. "They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. When we refused, there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot him several times," he said, speaking of Balkiz.
As they were being moved to another location on Monday, the abductors unexpectedly “ran across a rebel checkpoint.” It was then that Engel, Balkiz and Kooistra were able to escape amid gunfire between their captors and rebel fighters. They spent Monday night with the rebels and arrived in Antakya, Turkey this morning.
"It is good to be here," Engel, 39, said. "I'm very happy that we're able to do this live shot this morning."
“We're in good health. We're OK," he said.
Engel added that he believes his abductors were Shabiha fighters. Shabiha is a militia loyal to President al-Assad.
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