NBC Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his crew were driving through what they believed was rebel controlled territory last Wednesday when 15 armed men in ski masks ambushed them.The Syrian attackers overwhelmed the crew’s rebel guards and executed one of them on the spot.
Engel said their captors were part of a Syrian government militia called Shabiha, trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who hoped to swap the group for four Iranian agents and two Lebanese prisoners held by rebels.
From The Washington Post:
Engel, [his producer and cameraman], who appeared together on “Today,” said they were not hurt physically but were subjected to “psychological torture,” including threats that one or all of them would be 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 several times,” Engel said, referring to [Ghazi] Balkiz. “When you’re blindfolded and then they fire the gun up in the air, it can be a very traumatic experience.”
The ordeal came to an end Tuesday when the kidnappers stumbled through a rebel checkpoint, wound up in a firefight and fled after two of them were killed, leaving the captives behind but taking most of their equipment and clothing.
The group that rescued Engel and his fellow captives, the Ahrar al-Sham, are closely united with another rebel group recently labelled a terrorist organisation by the American government — the al-Nusra Front.