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Engel and crew believed they wouldn't make it out of Syria alive

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his crew believed they would not make it out of Syria alive during their five days of captivity, Engel said Thursday.

"There was no doubt that these were violent people and that they could have executed us at any time," Engel told NBC News' Savannah Guthrie in an interview Thursday night on "Rock Center."

Engel, 39, and his team disappeared shortly after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey on Dec. 13. He and his team had already been captured as his last taped report from Aleppo was appearing on "NBC Nightly News" that evening. 

The network had not been able to make contact with them until learning that they had been freed  Monday. The final member of the team, Ian Rivers, who provides technical support for NBC News, crossed safely from Syria into Turkey early Wednesday.

The network said there was no claim of responsibility, no contact with the captors and no request for ransom during the time the crew was missing.

After entering Syria, Engel and his team were abducted and tossed into the back of a truck before being transported to an unknown location believed to be near the small town of Ma'arrat Misrin. During their captivity, they were blindfolded and bound but otherwise were not physically harmed, the network said.

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But their captors submitted them to what Engel called "psychological torture," leading them to believe that they were doomed. From time to time, "they were making us choose which one of us would be executed," he said.

Asked whether they ever thought they were going to die, all five men raised their hands. "Every day," Engel said.

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.

Ghazi Balkiz, an NBC News producer, said that was the most nerve-racking time of all.

"I don't want to suffer to find out that this was not really happening," he said. "That would have been devastating."

Engel and his team were unharmed. Engel and several other members of the team remained in Syria until Tuesday morning when they made their way to the border and re-entered Turkey, the network said.