March 20th, 2011
08:09 PM ET

'Voice of Free Libya' silenced by sniper's bullet

"A true hero, Mohammed Nabbous of Sawt Libia al-Hurra, the Voice of Free Libya, was killed in fighting in Benghazi today."

It was a stark, raw tweet from Ben Wedeman with a big impact on our newsroom Saturday morning.

One of our first and most-trusted sources of information on the conflict in Libya had become a victim of the very civil war he in some ways had helped to spark.

In the first few days of the conflict back in February, "Mo" as we called him had become an inspiration, friend and "go-to" source as well as a regular witness on CNN's shows.

Of course, you wouldn't know that from watching.

We blurred his face and gave him code-names like "Benghazi Protester" in order to protect him and his young family.

It was a struggle to keep him from blurting out his name and even phone number on air, sometimes, as Mohammed said that he wanted freedom for Libya, or to be martyred trying to achieve it.

"I am not afraid to die, I am afraid to lose the battle," the young, western-educated software engineer would tell us when we asked him to keep his identity secret.

Libya before the fighting started was one of those very few "black holes" on the world's map for us: like North Korea or Syria, it was a country where the regimes iron grip on information was so strong and the secret police so brutal and pervasive that the risk of contacting people was simply not justified for putting peoples lives at risk by staying in regular communication.

When that all began to crumble beginning on February 17th and Libyans in the country's east began to rise up, we had to develop webs of witnesses from scrap.

But one quickly became our most savvy source: a 27-year-old technology expert and former internet provider in Benghazi.

Mohammed and other supporters had set up a kind of protest command center in the city's courthouse after ejecting Ghadhafi's forces in the first days of fighting.

That's where we first contacted him on February 18th - a guy who looked more Silicon Valley in a hooded sweatshirt and big headphones than a partisan in a Libyan war zone.

Amazingly, Mohammed had beaten the regimes firewalls and jerry-rigged a live signal from the building.

The camera showed the few hundred protesters huddled outside against the walls due to the cold and whipping winds - worried that Gadhafi's forces could swoop in at any moment.

It was our first view of the protests there, and we were worried that all this would be traced back and used to target the band of students and young people defying the Gadhafi regime.

At first Mo just wanted to get that picture to us, as he felt that it provided a thin blanket of security. He thought Ghadhafi might hold back if he knew that ordering the army or his feared African mercenaries to slaughter the protesters would be seen on live television around the globe.

Mohammed pushed the technical know-how limits of our engineers and desk editors such as Yousuf Basil, Jack Maddox, Ben Brumfield and myself as he came up with elaborate ways to get more and more cameras going around the courthouse.

But it wasn't until we started interviewing him on air that we realized how special he was.

Mohammed poignantly told us about how the army had shot into the crowds, then using armored vehicles to roll over protesters after they had run out of ammunition, and how the demonstrators would not give up.

After the first two days he told us with his live stream and webcasts he had become some sort of leader.

"People have been calling my mobile non-stop. I woke up today with 125 missed calls. People have been calling and checking on me to see if I am safe. One person called from Serbia just to say they are thinking of me and my struggle."

Chillingly, the newly married man with his first baby just a month from being born told us he believed the government knew who he was and there would be a price to be paid for his boldness.

"I would love to wake up tomorrow and people not be dead. But I know 200 people will be dead," he told one of our desk editors, Mitra Mobasherat. "Libyans lives to Gaddafi are very cheap."

Our correspondents in the field eventually caught up with Mohammed as CNN teams like Ben Wedeman and Mary Rogers led the push to get into the rebel territory, with Arwa Damon featuring him in one gripping package.

Later, as the rebel lines advanced toward Tripoli, we were in contact with him less often, but he expanded his presence and contact with the rest of the world.

Along with his supporters he developed social media sites like Feb17.info, set up an independent internet TV signal "Libya al-Hurrah" and conducted interviews with dozens of broadcasters.

And as the conflict surged back toward Benghazi in recent days he began to go out into the field to interview people about the dangers and loss they were suffering from the ongoing struggle.

That's what he was doing Friday when he was fatally shot.

Reports are still sketchy, but his wife and supporters say he was killed by a headshot from a sniper while going out to videotape rocket attacks on one neighborhood where he heard several children had been killed.

He phoned in one last report that morning to al-Hurrah, with the sounds of heavy machine gun fire rattling and artillery exploding around him.

Then, nothing else until Ben's tweet, and the following announcement he had been killed after the fighting.

On Feb17.info was one final favorite quote of Mohammed Nabbous: "A Candle loses nothing by lighting another Candle."

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Filed under: Libya • World
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. banasy

    @Mary:

    There's already so much hate spewed on these blogs. Nobody needs to see any more from the so-called "friendly" bloggers. My stuff to other bloggers is all meant to be taken in the spirit of friendship and fun. 'K? Nuff said.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jazz7

      @ Banasy , That comment u made wasn't in the spirit of "friendship" . I know who u are even though u have fooled some , I know how u operate , I should because I work with crazy B's all day. I have no need to converse with u from this point on , dont have any need to make life out side of work stressful either. But just to say your true colors will show evenually and ppl will see who u really are. Have a good life. from the more level headed one my "friend"

      March 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jazz7

    @ Banasy , U could have responded on the blog that this took place , I can only assume it is for Cesar r 's benefit , little girl

    March 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lisa

    Girls please. No man is worth bickering over. All men are pigs, or have you forgotten.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jazz7

      Thanks Lisa , but i'm really not bickering over him in the true sense , just cant take the crazy women anymore. I may have to work with them for awhile longer but I wont deal with any outside of work. Only time tells if a man is worth it. Do you FB

      March 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy

    Mary, I don't know what I did to make you so angry, and it doesn't really matter now that you've called me some choice names I really don't deserve. Later.

    March 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Chris

    Mohammad, may your soul rest in pI found blogs from Mohammad. America, Libya is NOT on the verge of civil war. Mohammad (madmanmoe) said that, "Libya wants everyone united and if anything, this conflict has brought us much closer together than ever before."

    The partially censored link is r***s***te**h.com/madmanmoe

    I cannot give away the website. The Libyan government might read this and cut off citizen access to this site (Libya is running out of uncensored sites).

    Thank you.

    Chris

    March 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ceaser

    Cesar...and how many innocent lives would it take to satisfy one man's greed?

    March 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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