Final Member of Richard Engel's NBC News Crew Out of Syria
The final member of the NBC News crew that was working in Turkey and Syria with chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has safely left Syria.
The announcement came Wednesday from NBC News. Ian Rivers, a member of the NBC News technical staff, became separated from Engel’s production team in the midst of a fire-fight early Tuesday that resulted in Engel and producer Ghazi Balkiz and cameraman John Kooistra escaping from captivity.
Rivers is in good condition and will be evaluated in Turkey. NBC News would not elaborate on how Rivers escaped from Syria.
"Now that Ian Rivers has been reunited with Richard Engel’s entire production team, all of us at NBC News can breathe a huge sigh of relief and express our deep appreciation to all who helped secure their freedom,” NBC News president Steve Capus said in a statement. "At the same time, our thoughts and concerns are with those who remain missing inside Syria and we hope for their swift and safe release."
The ordeal began Dec. 13 when Engel said 15 masked gunmen ambushed Engel and his team shortly after they entered Syria with rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One of the rebels was killed and Engel, Balkiz and Kooistra were blindfolded and bound while being shuttled to various locations inside Syria. When the kidnappers came upon a rebel-manned checkpoint early Tuesday morning a fire-fight broke out; allowing Engel and his colleagues to escape, they said.
Engel said that his kidnappers were Shia loyalists of al-Assad, loyal to Hezbollah, and that they wanted to exchange himself and his colleagues for captives being held by the rebels.
"To be honest, when we first got captured, for me it was a moment of disbelief, but I've worked with those guys for a long time in harsh environments, and we work with each other very well, and it helped that I was captured with them because we kept each others' spirits up,” Balkiz said Dec. 18 on the Today show.
Syria remains among the most dangerous locations for journalists where civil unrest and the brutal crackdown by the al-Assad government - which has targeted journalists - has raged since 2011. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 28 journalists have been killed in Syria in 2012, either in combat or targeted for murder by the government or opposition forces. The number of fatalities related to the Syrian conflict approached the worst annual toll recorded during the war in Iraq, where 32 journalists were killed in both 2006 and 2007, said CPJ.
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie