NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was NOT captured by President Bashar al-Assad in Syria: His real captors were Sunni militants posing as government forces

  • Richard Engel was kidnapped in Syria with his crew and held for five days 
  • His captors told group they were militants associated with Bashar al-Assad
  • But new evidence suggests the kidnappers posed as government forces 
  • They were in fact Sunni militants who also staged an elaborate rescue 

NBC News has changed its account of how chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was kidnapped in Syria, saying he was now most likely taken by Sunni rebels who tried to convince their victims they were government militants.

The broadcaster had previously reported that the 2012 kidnapping of Mr Engel, which saw him held for five days and expecting to be killed, was carried out by forces associated with President Bashar-al Assad. 

But Mr Engel has revealed that following analysis of his kidnapping it is likely the men that took him were in fact a Sunni group who had tried to convince their victims that they were Shi-ite rebels affiliated to the Government.

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NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel (centre) was taken captive with Turkey reporter Aziz Akyavas (left) and photographer John Kooistra (right) and were convinced by their captors they had been taken by forces related to President Bashar al-Assad, but they may have been Sunni rebels instead

A statement posted on the NBC News site said: 'The group that kidnapped us put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite Shabiha militiamen. The group that kidnapped us was a criminal gang with shifting allegiances.' 

The statement also raises concerns that rather than being freed following a harrowing firefight, as they were told, this may actually have been staged for propaganda purposes. Instead the captives may just have been handed over.

The statement added: 'We have not been able to get a definitive account of what happened that night. But based on all of our reporting, it is clear that we were kidnapped by a criminal gang for money and released for propaganda purposes.

'This, of course, does not make our kidnappers or the five days they held us at gunpoint any less dangerous. It does, however, underscore the treacherous and violent nature of the conflict inside Syria.'

Mr Engel and his team were prompted to research the circumstances of the 2012 kidnapping after the New York Times raised questions over the attackers' identities. They suggested the kidnapping was likely to have been carried out by a Sunni criminal element of the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, linked to the Free Syrian Army and known for taking hostages. 

The New York Times claimed that NBC executives were informed of the suspicions about the kidnappers' identities during and after Mr Engel was taken.

Mr Engel was convinced by his captors that he had been taken and held by government affiliated forces

But immediately after his release Mr Engel appeared on Today and in a Vanity Fair interview claiming he had been taken by the shabiha group, government militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. He made these assertions based on what he had been told by his captors, which included that they had been rescued by Sunni rebels. 

The paper claimed that when the captors realised other rebels were trying to free the victims they had actually staged a rescue so they could blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. 

Engel and his crew, including producers Ghazi Balkiz and Aziz Akyavas, as well as cameraman John Kooistra, were taken hostage on December 13, 2012, while reporting in Syria.

The foreign correspondent said they had met a man who had claimed he was a Syrian rebel commander who had promised to take them across the border to see Iranian and Lebanese prisoners being held by rebels.

Richard Engel and NBC crew freed after 2012 Syria kidnap

Syrians run for cover after a mortar shell hit a street killing several in the Bustan Al-Qasr district of Aleppo

They were soon removed from a truck and loaded into a container vehicle by armed men where they were bound, blindfolded and stripped of their passports and shoes.

The kidnappers forced the group to make a video and unwittingly set off a distress GPS signal, which informed NBC exactly where they were. NBC was able to broadcast images of the farm they were being held at across the world, also informing their kidnappers they knew of the location.

Engel and his crew were believed to have been taken near Ma-arrat Misrin, and were pictured in captivity with Arabic sprayed on the wall behind them. It read: ‘Or will burn.’

A statement published by NBC said it was clear that the group were released for propaganda purposes

During the five days they were held Mr Engel reported apparently hearing one of the rebels they were with being shot, and constantly being subjected to the sounds of guns being loaded - believing each day was his last.

He claimed they were constantly tormented by the kidnappers. As an example, the 39-year-old correspondent said that one minute, their captors were giving them tea, and the next, they were demanding the crew decide who would be killed first.

On the fifth night they were loaded, while blindfolded, into a van. They were told they would be handed over to military forces in Foua. As they reached a checkpoint there was the sound of gunfire and a dead body was seen on the floor. 

Engel has since said, in light of the new information, this may have been staged to convince them they were rescued rather than handed over.

Source | http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3041736/NBC-chief-foreign-correspondent-Richard-Engel-s-real-captors-Sunni-militants-posing-government-forces.html

[NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was NOT captured by President Bashar al-Assad in Syria: His real captors were Sunni militants posing as government forces]