Journalists escape after being kidnapped in Syria

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Video showing rocket strike near camera from a citizen journalist broadcasting live footage from Homs, Syria on February 9.
Image: Baba-Omer via Bambuser.

At least two journalists were released after being held captive in Syria for approximately five days according to NBC News. Turkish journalist Aziz Akyavaş and US journalist Richard Engel went missing on Thursday. Both work for NBC News and were on assignment in the country.

"After being kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew members have been freed unharmed. We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country," said NBC News in a statement on their website.

Earlier NTV, the Turkish language partner of MSNBC, reported Akyavaş may have been "arrested and detained in Syria" ((tr))Turkish language: ‍Suriye'de tutuklanıp tutuklanmadığına, but they also added, "[we] do not have any information yet." ((tr))Turkish language: ‍henüz herhangi bir bilgi yok The Kuwait News Agency reported Akyavaş may have been kidnapped, but also reported Engel was the one who announced Akyavaş was missing.

The journalists went missing after crossing into Syria from the Turkish border. NBC News says Engel and others were tied up, blindfolded, and put in the back of a truck and driven to possibly near the Syrian town of Ma’arrat Misrin. When they were moved to another location, the kidnappers accidentally approached a Syrian rebel checkpoint and a gunfight broke out. Two unnamed captors were killed in the attack, but Engel and others were able to escape. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and no one was injured. NBC News never had contact with their captors and a ransom demand was never made.

Little was initially known about the situation. At first, NBC didn't officially acknowledge either of the journalists were missing and according to Gawker, they website was "subject to a news blackout — one to which Gawker agreed until now — for at least the past 24 hours."

Engel is a regular user of the social networking website Twitter and has not posted a 'Tweet' since December 6. His last official report was filed on December 11.

In February, Wikinews reported journalists were apparently targeted in Syrian government attacks, and some of them killed. On February 9, a Syrian citizen journalist named 'Omar' was airing a live feed of the bombardment of Homs when several rockets struck near the camera's position, nearly destroying it. On February 21, a member of the Homs Media Center was killed by a rocket as Syrian forces continued their bombardment of the city for an eighteenth straight day. A day later, Marie Colvin, a Sunday Times journalist, and award winning French photographer Rémi Ochlik, were killed when rockets again hit the media center. At least two others were injured in the attack, French journalist Edith Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy.