NBC News crew freed from captors in Syria

You didn't hear that NBC reporter Richard Engle had been captured last week by an unknown force in Syria? That's probably because NBC News begged their colleagues not to report the abduction.

This was the right call, but raises an interesting point; the press can apparently keep secrets when one of their own is in danger, but asking them to keep their mouths shut when American soldiers are in harm's way is another matter.

NBC News' Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and members of his network production team were freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner, NBC News said early Tuesday.

"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," the network said in a statement.

"It is good to be here," Engel said during a live appearance on TODAY from Turkey. "I'm very happy that we're able to do this live shot this morning."

Engel said that they were traveling with Syrian rebels when a group of about 15 gunmen "jumped out the trees and bushes" and captured them.

He said the gunmen executed one of the rebels "on the spot," and later during their captivity they were subjected to mock executions while blindfolded and bound.

"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. They pretended to shoot Ghazi [Balkiz, an NBC producer] several times," Engel said.

Balkiz said that they had "worked with each other very well... we kept each other's spirits up" during their ordeal. Cameraman John Kooistra said he had "made good with my maker" and had been "prepared to die many times."

Engle and his crew were extremely lucky to escape with their heads still attached to their bodies. It is likely they fell into the hands of one of the Shabiha militia groups loyal to President Assad. The militia played a prominent role in the crackdown prior to the onset of hostilities between rebels and the government. They have much blood on their hands, deliberately targeting civilians during protests against the Assad regime.