NBC News correspondent Richard Engel described how his captors in Syria last month held mock executions in which they acted as if they were about to shoot Engel and his fellow prisoners, but then refrained.
“Did you think this is it, I’m going to die?” Jay Leno asked Engel, 39, when the journalist — who was kidnapped along with five colleagues by a pro-government militia group in Syria — appeared on “The Tonight Show” Thursday night.
“There were several times when you think you’re gonna die,” Engel said of the ordeal, which lasted five days until he and the other prisoners escaped when his captors came up against an anti-government militia group on a Syrian road.
Engel said the group was captured a short time after they crossed the border into Syria from Turkey — intending to meet up with a rebel group and report on their activities. The initial capture was bloody, Engel said, as one man — the bodyguard of the rebel officer who had come to meet Engel and the others — was killed. Their captors then doused the rebel officer with a flammable liquid and threatened him with immolation, but they stopped short of carrying out the threat, Engel said.
“The point of capture is always a dangerous period,” Engel told Leno.
Engel said he and the others were held captive in a house, where their captors would play mind games with them — most notably “pretending” that they were preparing to execute Engel and the rest of the prisoners. Engel described to Leno how he and the others were blindfolded and led outside, where they were informed that they would be shot.
“They would take us out and line us up against the wall,” Engel said, “and we heard weapons being loaded. At one stage, they said they were going to shoot [one of the producers] who is a friend of mine, and they made him stick out his leg and counted down to 10 and then on number 10, they fired up in the air. But, of course, if you’re blindfolded, you don’t know they’re firing up into the air.”
Engel then told Leno about the group’s miraculous escape, during which their captors were killed.