Reporting by The New York Times has led NBC News to revise the story of a 2012 kidnapping in Syria involving correspondent Richard Engel and five members of his crew. In a story posted Wednesday evening, Engel says much of what he thought–and reported at the time–about the kidnapping may have been incorrect, including the identity of the kidnappers.
Engel says it is likely he and his crew were not, in fact, held hostage by forces connected to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. “The group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia.”
The Times reports the kidnappers likely intentionally misled Engel about their identity:
Interviews by The Times with several dozen people — including many of those involved in the search for NBC’s team, rebel fighters and activists in Syria and current and former NBC News employees — suggested that Mr. Engel’s team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.
The group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes. The kidnapping ended, the people involved in the search said, when the team was freed by another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, which had a relationship with Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj.
“We have not been able to get a definitive account of what happened that night,” writes Engel. “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.”