Five days after their kidnapping in Syria, an NBC News team has been "freed unharmed," the network says. "We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country." The release of chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew followed a firefight at a checkpoint yesterday, NBC News reports. The group had been out of contact since entering northwest Syria from Turkey on Thursday. This morning, Engel described the attack on the Today show. While his team was traveling with Syrian rebels, some 15 gunmen "jumped out the trees and bushes" to kidnap them. One of the rebels was immediately executed.
While they were held, "we weren't physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed," Engel said. "They made us choose which one of us would be shot first and when we refused there were mock shootings." Engel believes the captors were part of the Assad loyalist militia "shabiha"; they spoke "openly about their loyalty to the government." The captors hoped to use the crew to win back rebel-held prisoners, Engel said. Last night, their captors hit a rebel checkpoint while transporting them. Two of the captors died in a firefight, while an unknown number of others escaped. The crew stayed in Syria overnight and returned to Turkey this morning, the network reports.