We decided to grab the latest issue of Vanity Fair in which NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel recounts his kidnapping and escape from captivity in Syria late last year. Engel writes about the mental torture he and his team were put through, including not being given food or water for more than a day. He also expressed gratitude at the media blackout NBC News had imposed on the matter.
The rescue took place when Engel and his team were being transported to a Hezbollah stronghold in Foua.
We didn’t know how long it would take to get to Foua. But seven minutes into the trip–we were counting minutes to keep track of distances–the driver slammed on his brakes. “Checkpoint! Checkpoint!” he yelled. Through the corner of my blindfold I could see the headlights of a vehicle facing us in the road ahead.
The two gunmen exited the car and opened fire on the guards at the checkpoint. They were killed. The trail car fled.
The Man who approached was wearing a turban. He had a long beard. He was carrying an AK-47 but seemed relaxed and calm. “Who are you?” he asked.
I didn’t trust him enough to answer in Arabic. I showed him my bound hands. “We’re hostages” I said in English. “We’re hostages, who are you? Rebels? Free Syrian Army?” I took a gamble and said “Free Syrian Army” in Arabic, but with a deliberately bad accent.
He nodded. It was sinking in. My hands were soon unbound. I wrapped my arms around the man and thanked him. “Don’t thank us,” he said. “This is Allah. We are only his agents.”
The rebels were from a Sunni religious group. They’d been looking for us. They’d set up extra checkpoints throughout the area where we’d been kidnapped.
One member of Engel’s team had gone missing in the rescue. The found out later that he had walked for miles in flip-flops, before bring driven to the Turkey border the next day by friendly villagers.