Final member of NBC team free after Syria kidnap

AP News
Posted: Dec 19, 2012 1:26 PM
Final member of NBC team free after Syria kidnap

LONDON (AP) — The last missing member of an NBC team that was kidnapped in Syria has been freed and is safely in Turkey, NBC News executives said Wednesday.

Ian Rivers was part of the NBC team led by the network's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. They were kidnapped in Syria on Thursday, and Engel and several other members escaped unharmed on Monday.

"We're thrilled that he found his way to safety," said NBC News communications director Erika Masonhall.

In a brief amateur video made before he left Syria, Rivers said he and the others had been "blindfolded, handcuffed and roughed up a little bit" while being held by pro-regime militia groups.

He said he ended up getting released on his own "in the confusion of some type of handover."

NBC said in a statement that Rivers got separated from the other journalists as the other men escaped from captivity during a firefight between their captors and Syrian rebels.

Masonhall said Rivers, a technical support staffer, was left without shoes and without communications gear, but found his way to safety and is thought to be in good condition. He will receive a medical evaluation, then travel on to the U.S. or the U.K.

"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.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, an unshaven Engel said more than a dozen pro-regime gunmen dragged him and his colleagues from their car, killed one of their rebel escorts and subjected them to mock executions.

He said they escaped during a firefight Monday night between their captors and rebels at a checkpoint.

Engel said he believes the kidnappers were a Shiite militia group loyal to President Bashar Assad's government, which has lost control over swaths of the country's north and is increasingly on the defensive in a civil war that activists say has killed 40,000 people since March 2011.

"They kept us blindfolded, bound," said the 39-year-old Engel, who speaks and reads Arabic. "We weren't physically beaten or tortured. A lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused, there were mock shootings."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria is by far the deadliest country for the news media in 2012, with 28 journalists killed in combat or targeted for murder by government or opposition forces.