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NBC reporter free from captivity in Syria

Dec. 18, 2012 at 11:56 AM   |   Comments

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- NBC News's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, two colleagues and a security guard were released after five days of captivity in Syria, NBC said Tuesday.

In a statement, NBC said Engel and his crew, missing since entering Syria from Turkey Thursday, were "freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner."

The NBC News crew was unharmed in the firefight. They were in Syria until Tuesday when they worked their way to the Turkish border and entered Turkey, the network said. The former captives were to be evaluated and debriefed, but had relayed that all were in good health.

"We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country," NBC said.

Turkey's NTV news channel said Aziz Akyavas, a Turkish correspondent with NBC, was taken along with Engel.

Akyavas told NTV he and his colleague were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were held in several locations during the time of their captivity.

While not physically abused, Akyavas said the captives were humiliated, subjected to mock executions and denied food. He said the captors asked them to speak to a camera, identify themselves and ask their governments to rescue them, and were told the video would be posted on YouTube.

The others taken with Engel and Akyavas were not identified, nor were their captors.

Concerning their kidnappers, NBC only said the captors "were not believed to be loyal to [President Bashar Assad's] regime."

Two captors were killed in the skirmish at the checkpoint run by the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, an Islamic Salafist group that operates throughout Syria, with its greatest presence in Idlib, the network said.

Engel, an award-winning journalist, has reported about the Middle East extensively. He was reporting on the war from inside Syria when he was captured.

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, when demonstrators marched to show support for the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa and to demand Assad's resignation. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated in November more than 40,000 people had died in the fighting.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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