It’s every war correspondent’s nightmare: dragged from the car by men with AK-47s; bound, gagged, and blindfolded; fearing torture or execution at any moment. Last December, a quick trip into Syria turned deadly, NBC News’s Richard Engel recalls, when his team of six was kidnapped by the vicious, pro-government shabiha militia and toyed with by a sadistic captor as they fought against their panic—and for their lives.
I. In and Out
December 13, 2012
The commander was waiting for us by the side of the road, just as he had promised. His name was Abdelrazaq, and he was clean-shaven and had bright eyes that made him look intelligent. He smoked a cigarette and didn’t let on if he was annoyed that we were an hour late. We’d gotten lost on the way, but didn’t tell him that.
I was on assignment for NBC News, and my team and I were on the Syrian side of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, one of the main access points between Syria and Turkey.
Abdelrazaq lifted our bags into his car. Boys scurried about, looking to carry luggage for tips. Men shouldered 50-pound sacks of fertilizer. The rebels mix fertilizer with sugar and pack it into propane tanks to make bombs that can knock the tracks off a Syrian tank or tear up government patrols. The rebels have used so much fertilizer that it is hard to find in Syria. It has to be carried in from Turkey, along with just about everything else. Guns and money and walkie-talkies and spies go one way across the two miles of no-man’s-land separating Syria from Turkey; the wounded and refugees go the other. The border crossing at Bab al-Hawa is the umbilical cord to the revolution.
Abdelrazaq told us there wasn’t enough room in his car for all our bags and all of us. We were traveling light for television reporters, but we still had computers and batteries and cameras and tapes and flak jackets and medical kits. There were six of us, a pretty big team. I have never liked big teams, but this was going to be an easy trip. We’d be back in Turkey in a few hours.