After a truly horrific week of heartbreaking tragedy, a ray of hope finally peeked out from behind the storm clouds of despair. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel was freed Monday from his captors in Syria, along with his entire NBC News production team.
Engel and his crew were released unharmed after a brief battle between the unidentified kidnappers and members of the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade, a prominent Syrian rebel militia. The mysterious group attempted to move their prisoners early Monday evening, local Syrian time, when they ran into a rebel roadblock. Gun fire was exchanged, and two of the kidnappers were killed in the fighting. An unknown number of Engel’s captors escaped in the confusion and are still being sought.
The NBC team was originally kidnapped by masked gunmen shortly after they entered Syria from Turkey on Thursday, December 13, 2012. There were absolutely no communications from the kidnappers, no demands were made, and the group’s identity remains unknown.
After they were released, Richard Engel and the NBC production crew quickly left Syria and returned to Turkey where they were evaluated medically and debriefed before being reunited with NBC staffers. No other details about their condition were made public.
An NBC Spokesperson made the following comments about the group’s release from captivity:
“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.”
While there is great relief over the safe release of Richard Engel and his crew, American freelance journalist Austin Tice remains missing in Syria. Tice vanished in mid-August and no group has come forward to claim responsibility. As in the case of Richard Engel, the reasons for Tice’s disappearance remain an enigma.
Tice covered the Syrian uprising for the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and several other publications. The United States government remains convinced Tice is being held by the Assad Regime as part of the Syrian government’s ongoing campaign of fear and intimidation against journalists and international corespondents.
A highly respected journalist, Engel was the recipient of the Peabody Award for his coverage of the US Army Viper Company fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan and he received the Edward R. Murrow Award on May 18, 2009. Mr. Engel has extensive experience covering Middle Eastern conflicts including Iraq, the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and the Libyan Civil War.
Mr. Engel is fluent in several Arabic dialects, and he speaks and reads classic Arabic. Once he recovers from his ordeal and communicates with the public, perhaps he will reveal more about the identity of his abductors and the reasons for their actions. In the meantime, the smart money is betting on the Assad regime as the responsible party.