NBC's Richard Engel on 'Psychological Torture' of Syrian Kidnap (Video)
NBC News' chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and two crewmembers that were taken hostage for five days inside war-torn Syria spoke out Tuesday on Today following their release.
Along with NBC producer Ghazi Balkiz and cameraman John Kooistra, Engel was ambushed by 15 masked gunmen shortly after entering Syria, with rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal leader who has been trying put down an uprising since 2011. They were blindfolded and bound.
"We weren't physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed," Engel said, appearing to be in relatively good spirits. "They made us choose which one of us would be shot first, and when we refused there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot Ghazi several times. And when you're blindfolded, and they fire the gun up in the air, it can be a very traumatic experience."
A firefight broke out between their kidnappers and rebels at a road checkpoint, during which the trio escaped out of the minivan in which they were traveling.
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. Still, he felt natural worry and feelings of guilt about his family.
"We weren't allowed to speak, but if you sort of peek under the blindfold, and you can see if there is a guard in the room or not, and we tried to joke a little bit back and forth and keep our spirits up," Engel added.