NBC News correspondent Richard Engel and his four-person crew have been freed unharmed after being kidnapped inside Syria and subjected to five days of forced moves and death threats.
The journalists were released Monday following a gun battle between their captors and Syrian rebels at a checkpoint manned by the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, NBC said. They crossed safely back into Turkey.
Appearing on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, Engel, 39, said his captors were part of a government militia known as Shabiha, which is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Engel described the kidnappers as Shiite Muslims, trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and allied with Hezbollah.
The kidnappers told the journalists they wanted to exchange them for four Iranian agents and two Lebanese Shabiha members who had been captured by the rebels, Engel said. That plan was thwarted when the kidnappers unwittingly drove into a rebel checkpoint while trying to move the captives to a new location. In the ensuing gunfight, two of the group’s captors were killed.
“It is good to be here. I am very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning,” Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, said on “Today.”
Yesterday I received a number of comments linking to Gawker and saying that Richard Engel was missing.
On Gawker I learned that NBC had asked for a media blackout and was actively asking people not to tweet or blog about the news. Here is how Gawker rationalized their refusal to comply with the NBC request:
No one told me anything that indicated a specific, or even general, threat to Engel's safety. No one said, "If you report this, then we know, or suspect, that X, Y, or Z may happen." It was infinitely more vague and general than that.
That, to me, seemed a rather weak justification for doing something that might place another person's life in danger, so I refused to post the story.
You know it is great to be among the first to break a story, and it sometimes makes blogging an exhilarating experience, however there is also a responsibility to make sure you do no harm to others.
I really respect Richard Engel, and think he is one of the best, and most heroic, reporters that I have ever seen. Essentially he is a national treasure and I am beyond glad to see that he is now safely back among us.
I am also glad that those who could not wait to break a story, with little regard for this man's safety, did not seem to complicate his situation or result in harm coming his way. They got lucky this time.