NBC News’ foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, was reportedly kidnapped in Syria by gunmen in December, 2012. As the story went, he was one of five people held for five days, enduring threats that they’d be killed. Details surrounding this portion of the story, and the danger they faced, were life-threatening. There were, however, some mistakes made in the original reporting of who their captors actually were and what their association was with those who saved Engel and the others in Syria.
Engel wrote a lengthy report on NBC News and revealed new facts after painstaking research and conducting dozens of interviews. Many of those who could’ve given NBC more accurate information had been killed in rebel fighting or are in hiding.
The basic modifications to the story start with the fact that Engel and the others weren’t kidnapped by Shiite Shabiha militiamen, as he believed. Engel says it wasn’t the “members of the notorious Shabiha militia loyal to the government of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.” Instead, the kidnappers were a Sunni criminal group, and had “shifting alliances.” Additionally, they had ties to the people who freed Richard Engel in Syria.
A list of murky details is broken down as Engel explains how he got in touch with a variety of activists and fighters in Syria who had some knowledge of the kidnapping incident. Those with direct knowledge of his kidnapping had either been killed or escaped the country and are now refugees.
Engel and the other kidnap victims had to turn over their cell phones, shoes, belts, passports, money, and equipment to their captors. The correspondent goes on to say that it was his GPS which led to saving his life because one of the captors “unwittingly” hit a distress signal, which let NBC know exactly where they were located — at a farm. The New York Times reports that Engel was specifically held at a chicken farm.
Richard Engel says a field commander in the part of Syria he was being held at had vested interest in working with the U.S. Due to this, Ayman didn’t want anything to happen to the journalist.
“Our kidnapping also became a sensitive issue for the main rebel field commander in that part of Syria, a man known as Abu Ayman. A member of an the Islamist group Ahrar al Sham, Abu Ayman and his superiors were hoping to persuade the U.S. to provide arms to them. Having American journalists taken on what was known to be his turf could block that possibility.
We have now learned Abu Ayman was personally acquainted, and publicly cooperated with the leader of the group that controlled the farm where we were taken, Ezzo Qussab, a Sunni with a reputation for being a thug. Multiple local sources say that, while he called himself a rebel leader, Qussab was more of a criminal boss.”
Other key elements Engel changed in the story, was that the “rescue did not take place on the road by Foua as both our kidnappers and rescuers had told us, but took place closer to Maarat Misrin.”
Engel hasn’t been able to get a “definitive account of what happened that night,” but he writes that it’s “clear that we were kidnapped by a criminal gang for money and released for propaganda purposes.”
There are many answers still unclear, since the NBC journalist writes they “cannot determine whether we were set up to be kidnapped from the start, and we have found no evidence that the Iranian and Lebanese prisoners whom we were headed to see existed.”
As Richard Engel concludes on the Syria kidnapping, his captors and the five days of being held at gunpoint weren’t “any less dangerous.” He adds that it does emphasize the violent conflict going on inside Syria.
For a complete breakdown of the correspondent’s latest account of the story, read more about it here.
[Photo by NBC/Meet the Press via Getty Images]