BERUIT - NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and members of his production crew have been freed unharmed following a firefight at a checkpoint after five days of captivity inside Syria, the network said Tuesday.
NBC News said on its website that 39-year-old Engel and his team were kidnapped shortly after crossing the border from Turkey into Syria on Thursday. They were blindfolded and bound, but otherwise not physically harmed. The group was transported in the back of a truck to a location believed to be near the small town of Maarrat Misrin in northern Idlib province.
On Monday, the group was being driven to a new location when the kidnappers ran into a checkpoint manned by members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, a Syrian rebel group. A firefight ensued, killing two of the captors, the report said.
“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,” NBC said in a statement. “We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country.”
The network did not identify the other colleagues but said the team crossed back into Turkey on Tuesday.
NBC had not been able to contact the team until learning that they had been freed on Monday, nbcnews.com said. The report said there was no claim of responsibility, no contact with the captors and no request for ransom during the time the crew was missing. They crossed back into Turkey on Tuesday.
The Syrian government has barred most foreign media coverage of the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 40,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011. Those journalists whom the regime has allowed in are tightly controlled in their movements by Information Ministry minders. Many foreign journalists sneak into Syria illegally with the help of smugglers.
Several journalists have been killed covering the conflict. Among them are award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, photographer Remi Ochlik and Britain‘s Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin. Also, Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died after an apparent asthma attack while on assignment in Syria.
Engel joined NBC in 2003 and was named chief foreign correspondent in April 2008. He previously worked as a freelance journalist for ABC News, including during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He has lived in the Middle East since he graduated from Stanford University in 1996, according to his biography from NBC. He speaks and reads fluent Arabic.