- Last Updated: 8:34 AM, December 19, 2012
- Posted: 1:57 AM, December 19, 2012
They were ready to die.
Award-winning NBC News foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his three-man crew were blindfolded, bound and subjected to mock executions during their harrowing five days held captive by sadistic Syrian-government militants.
“You think that they’re going to take you outside to execute you. We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed,” Engel revealed to NBC’s “Today” show yesterday in a live interview from Turkey.
“They made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused there were mock shootings,” he said while appearing with two of his fellow released captives, NBC producer Ghazi Balkiz and cameraman John Kooistra.
The fourth captive was NBC News Turkey reporter Aziz Akyavas, who separately spoke to reporters.
“They pretended to shoot Ghazi several times,” Engel said.
Kooistra said he was ready to meet his end.
“During the ordeal, I made amends with my maker,” the cameraman said.
“I made good with myself — I was prepared to die many times.”
Engel, 49, said, “We’re very happy to be out. The last five days are some days that we would rather forget.”
The three men appeared shaggy but relieved after a dramatic escape during a firefight between their captors and Syrian rebels on Monday.
The crew’s ordeal began Thursday shortly after they crossed into northwest Syria from Turkey.
While traveling with the rebels, the three were ambushed by up to 15 gun-wielding men in ski masks.
One rebel was executed “on the spot,” Engel said.
The rest were thrown into vehicles and moved to safe houses.
The NBC crew was kept together but not allowed to speak.
But the journalists still managed to communicate, peeking out from under their blindfolds when their captors left the room.
“It helped that I was actually captured with them,” Balkiz said, “because we kept each other’s spirits up.”
While no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, Engel said the captors were “talking openly about their loyalty to the government” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and wanted to use the crew members as hostages to win the freedom of forces held by the rebels.
NBC execs said they had no contact with the captors and received no ransom demand while the crew was missing.
The rescue of the four men came while they were being moved to another location.
Their captors ran into an unexpected rebel checkpoint, leading to a dramatic firefight.
Two of the captors were killed while others escaped.
The rebels then released Engel’s crew, who returned to Turkey the following day.
At her home in Oyster Bay, LI, Engel’s mother, Nina Engel, told The Post she was overjoyed that her son was safe.
NBC “has been fantastic in their support, comfort and reassurance,” she said.
Richard Engel has worked for NBC since May 2003 and has reported from across the globe, including in recent years from Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt.