After five days being held captive in Syria, NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew escaped unharmed after a gun battle at a checkpoint resulted in the death of two of his captors, underscoring how dangerous it is for journalists to work in the country.
Engel, who was captured along with his crew last Thursday, arrived in Turkey on Tuesday, reported NBC News. The veteran war correspondent said the men who captured him most likely belonged to the “shabiha” militia, which is loyal to the Syrian regime.
“It is good to be here,” Engel told the network from Turkey. “I’m very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning.”
The NBC said in a brief statement that Engel and members of his production team had been captured by an unknown group of gunmen and were now “safely out of the country.”
While was traveling with a group of rebels last week, the gunmen “jumped out the trees and bushes” and took them captive, Engel said. He said that the men proclaimed their loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad.
One of the rebels he was traveling with was immediately executed and another was killed when they were in captivity. They were also subjected to mock executions while blindfolded.
“We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed,” Engel recalled. “They made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot Ghazi [Balkiz, an NBC producer] several times,” Engel said.
NBC had issued a media blackout for several days, but news of Engel’s capture was revealed on Monday after Turkish media reported on it and it circulated on Twitter. NBC said it had been unable to contact him until after he was freed on Monday.
Engel said that he and his crew were captured by the militiamen to use as a bargaining chip to free people held by the rebels.
“They captured us in order to carry out this exchange,” he said.
With the escalating civil war in Syria, the country became the most dangerous place to work as a journalist in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Over the last year, more than 28 journalists were killed in combat or were murdered by either government or opposition forces in relation to their work.
BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood, recalled earlier this year that the Syrian conflict is the most difficult conflict his agency has covered because Assad’s forces have sought to cut off the flow of information in and out of the country.
“We’ve hidden in vegetable trucks, been chased by Syrian police—things happen when you try to report covertly,” he said, according to CPJ.
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