Call this the end of the worst-kept secret in the commentariat.  NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel had been abducted last week, which got out into Twitter after a few days, prompting the network to attempt to squelch any mention of the disappearance of Engel and his crew while they attempted to find out who had Engel.  Fortunately, his captors lost a firefight with Syrian rebels, who freed the news crew and sent them back to Turkey:

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. The captors were unidentified.

Engel, 39, along with other employees the network did not identify, disappeared shortly after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey on Thursday. The network had not been able to contact them until learning that they had been freed on Monday.

It’s unclear whether their captors ever knew or cared who their hostages were.  No claims of responsibility or demands of ransom ever reached the US, according the NBC News.  Neither were the crew physically harmed, other than being bound and blindfolded.  At least according to the published reports, the reason for their captivity remains a mystery.

Their escape was a close-run event nonetheless:

Early Monday evening local time, the prisoners were being moved to a new location in a vehicle when their captors ran into a checkpoint manned by members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, a Syrian rebel group. There was a confrontation and a firefight ensued.  Two of the captors were killed, while an unknown number of others escaped, the network said.

The NBC News crew was unharmed in the incident. They remained in Syria until Tuesday morning when they made their way to the border and re-entered Turkey, the network said. They were to be evaluated and debriefed, but had communicated that everyone was in good health.

That’s good to hear, especially with so much bad news this Christmas already.  It reminds us how dangerous and difficult the job of foreign correspondent can get, which we have unfortunately learned more tragically from abductions that ended in death or combat attacks in war zones for people like Stephen Vincent, Michael Kelly, and more.

Update: NBC’s Today interviewed Engel this morning, and Engel says the captors were “Shabiha,” a militia loyal to Bashar al-Assad (via Jeff Dunetz):

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This could have ended much more tragically. It’s good to see these men alive and well. But as Engel explains, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a terrifying few days.