NBC’s Richard Engel revealed harrowing details of his five days as a captive of a Syrian armed group, telling of endless threats and mock executions by the kidnappers.
The Jewish newsman spoke out after he and his crew were freed Tuesday during a dramatic firefight at a rebel checkpoint.
“Then they took us to a series of safe houses and interrogation places, and they kept us blindfolded, bound,” Engel said. “We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed,” and mock shootings, he said. “It was a very traumatic experience.”
Engel, 39, who along with production crew members Ghazi Balkiz and John Kooistra disappeared after crossing into northwestern Syria from Turkey on Thursday, said their kidnappers were members of a militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Their ordeal ended when their captors, who frequently moved them bound and blindfolded between safe houses, on Monday night unexpectedly drove into checkpoint set up by an Islamist rebel group. Two of their kidnappers were killed in the ensuing firefight, and the three spent the night with the Islamist rebels, Engel told the network.
The three were kidnapped when they were driving with anti-Assad rebels in a rebel-controlled area, Engel, an American, told NBC’s “Today” program from Antakya, Turkey.
A group of about 15 heavily armed men wearing ski masks “jumped out of the trees and bushes on the side of the road,” seized the three and put them in a container truck, Engel said.
“We tried to joke around a little and keep our spirits up,” Engel said, adding that they could peek under blindfolds but were not allowed to talk.