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Engel’s colleagues spoke of moments of despair as they worried about their families. “During the ordeal … I made good with my maker, I made good with myself. I was prepared to die many times,” Kooistra said.
NBC identified the rebels at the checkpoint as members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, a Syrian rebel group.
The network said it had not been able to contact them until they were freed. NBC had attempted to keep the crew’s disappearance secret but several media outlets ignored the requested blackout.
There was no claim of responsibility and no request for ransom, NBC said, but Engel said of the captors: “This was a group known as the Shabiha. This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar Assad.”
The kidnappers spoke openly about their loyalty to the government and their faith, he said, and were planning to exchange him and his team for four Iranian agents and two Shabiha members held by Syrian rebels.
Ahrar al-Sham, an extremist Salafist group that includes a large contingent of foreign fighters, has been at the forefront of rebel offensives in northern Syria.
Members of the group have told Reuters the unit wants to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria, not a pluralistic democracy, when Assad is overthrown. But they have not shown hostility to Western journalists covering the conflict.
Engel has reported on the popular uprisings that swept the Arab world since 2011.
At least 40,000 people have been killed in Syria’s uprising, which started in March 2011 with street protests that were met with gunfire by Assad’s security forces, and which spiralled into the most enduring and destructive of the Arab revolts.