"... the kidnapping group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes. ... NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab's possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels's captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals.
"Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events. ... NBC's own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort.
"NBC had received GPS data from the team's emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.
"NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team's release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.
"Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, 'Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.' Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC's team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.- Advertisement -
"Abu Hassan, a local medic who is close to the rebel movement, and who was involved in seeking the team's release, said that when the kidnappers realized that all the other rebels in the area were working to get the captives out, they decided to create a ruse to free them and blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. 'It was there that the play was completed,' he said, speaking of the section of road Mr. Engel and the team were freed on.
"Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release 'we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.' He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue."
The Sarin Mystery
While it's impossible to determine whether the successful scam about Engel's kidnapping/rescue influenced the thinking of other Syrian rebels to sponsor a false-flag attack using Sarin, some of the same propaganda factors applied -- with the U.S. news media jumping to conclusions about Assad's responsibility for the Sarin deaths and then ridiculing any doubters.
Yet, like the Engel kidnapping affair, there were immediate reasons to doubt the "group think" on the Sarin attack, especially since Assad had just invited United Nations inspectors to Syria to investigate what he claimed was an earlier use of chemical weapons by the rebels. As the inspectors were unpacking their bags in Damascus, the Sarin attack occurred in a Damascus suburb, a provocation that quickly forced the inspectors to address the new incident instead.
The inspectors were under extraordinary U.S. pressure to implicate Assad -- especially after Secretary of State John Kerry described a massive Sarin attack using multiple rockets that he said could only have come from a Syrian military base. But the inspectors only found one crudely made Sarin-laden rocket -- and when rocket experts examined it, they estimated that it could only travel a couple of kilometers, meaning it was likely fired from rebel-controlled territory. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case."]
Even as the evidence implicating the Syrian government evaporated, the mainstream U.S. news media and many wannabe important bloggers continued to defend the earlier "group think" on the Sarin attack and reject the possibility that the sainted rebels had done it. But the false-flag Engel kidnapping/rescue shows that such propaganda stunts were in the rebels' bag of tricks.