Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, is safe and sound after nearly a week in captivity in Syria, the network said in a statement Dec. 18.
"After being kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew members have been freed unharmed. We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country," NBC announced early Tuesday morning.
Engel, 39, and four members of his team were taken prisoner by a group of about 15 gunmen after crossing into the country from Turkey on Thursday, Dec. 13. From that point on, the network had no contact with them. According to NBC, they were tossed into the back of a truck before being transported to an unknown location, where they were blindfolded, bound, and subjected to mock executions.
"We weren't physically beaten or tortured," Engel said from Turkey during a live appearance on the Today show. "It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed...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."
"I made good with my Maker. I made good with myself. I was prepared to die, many times," cameraman John Kooistra added of the harrowing experience.
The network said there was "no claim of responsibility, no contact with the captors and no request for ransom during the time the crew was missing." However, Engel reported that the kidnappers planned to use him and his fellow prisoners to win the freedom of people being held by Syrian rebels.
"They captured us in order to carry out this exchange," he said on the Today show.
On Monday, Dec. 17, the abductors attempted to move the prisoners to a new location; en route, they passed a checkpoint manned by the Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham brigade. During an ensuing firefight, two of the captors were killed and several others escaped. The NBC News crew was unharmed in the incident and released shortly after.