Robertson: Gadhafi thugs grabbed me and my crew
CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson has been covering the situation in Libya.
March 11th, 2011
08:44 PM ET

Robertson: Gadhafi thugs grabbed me and my crew

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson and his crew were detained Friday in Tajura, Libya, east of Tripoli by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. This is his account.

For a few moments today, for us personally, Libya’s lies and deceit were swept aside and the real deal was brutally exposed.

“Itla, itla” - "Get in the car, get in the car!" - he was screaming. My cameraman, Khalil Abdallah, and I hesitated for a split-second. But that's all it was.

We were staring down the barrel of an AK-47, the weapon was jumping in his hands. He was cocking it, wrenching the handle back, a bullet being slammed into the firing chamber.

It was only a split-second.

We are free to go anywhere, any time, talk to who we want, when we want. That's what Moammar Gadhafi’s son told me, that's what Libya told the U.N. We already knew it was all lies - look at any number of our colleagues, arrested, detained, in some cases, beaten - but today it came home to us personally.

The hyper-aggressive jerk with the gun had just hit the jackpot.

There was him and three others. They were grabbing us, bundling us towards their pickup truck. He had a pistol in his belt, one of the others kept his AK trained on us too, and an older guy with the grey beard was speed-dialing his phone.

These are Gadhafi’s enforcers. They were looking for us.`

As Khalil and I were pushed through the car doors, clambering over the body armor these thugs had strewn over the seats, I could see the rest of our team try to drive away.

We got to Tajura in a random taxi that had picked us up as we walked down a street. Now it was the best hope producer Tommy Evans had to get away and report our detention.

But it was too late. They'd been spotted, blocked, and stopped, and as I watched, Tommy was forced out of the car, kicked by another thug who already had his AK pointed at Tommy’s face.

Another member of this plainclothes security force pulled open our car door, started rifling through my pockets. Patting me down about as aggressively as he could. There was nothing we could do.

They were demanding our phones, asking where was our camera.

They'd only just got hold of us. This was no accidental arrest, no fortunate stumbling across a news team. They had planned this all along.

We were trying to cover Friday prayers on the same streets where last week police attacked protesters firing tear gas and live rounds. Now it was clear they were out in force.

The questions began. "Where are you from? Where are you from?" It seemed they didn’t quite know what to do with us.

"We are going to cuff you and we are going to throw you out of the country," the angry thug with the AK and pistol was shouting at us. Then the guy on the phone got orders. The press office would pick us up.

They'd known all along who to call - the government officials who'd invited us to the country. We parked by the roadside. No chance to call CNN head office; they had our phones now.

But much worse, they were bringing the innocent taxi driver with us. He'd done nothing more than give us a ride. He had no idea he might get in to trouble. The poor fellow looked increasingly nervous.

Not much younger than me, he probably has a family waiting for him. We felt terrible for him. But there was nothing we could do to protect him. Our camera was on the floor of his car, our kit in his trunk.

In the eyes of these government heavies, our taxi driver was guilty by association. But guilty of what, what had we done? Nothing - we'd not even shot a single picture. No interviews, nothing, just driven in to a neighborhood with an anti-government reputation.

The gunmen were smoking, bored now that the thrill of the chase was over. They called again: "Where was the ride to take us back to the hotel?" The answer: "We're busy, bring them in yourself."

Amid screeching tires and the stench of burning rubber needlessly ground into the tarmac, we took off. A final indignity for these hard men, they'd got the mundane job of delivering us back to government officials.

The violent invective started again. "You should go to Palestine and film what the Israelis are doing. You should leave Libya, go to Afghanistan, report what’s happening there," "Libya mia mia," repeating a chant we’ve heard many times, meaning Libya 100%.

We were screaming down the highway close to 100 mph, the radio blasting out a Gadhafi anthem, the driver pumping out the beat with his fist in the air. One-handed driving at its most worrying.

At the hotel gates, the realization we weren't alone, the realization of why the Libyan government press office had no spare vehicles to pick us up.

Dozens of other journalists like us were being brought in under armed guard, signed over to our minders. One was OK about our detention, claiming, "You know if you are there they will protest; if you don't go nothing will happen."

Of course, the protests began long before the government allowed in reporters, but that kind of logic carries no weight here.

Another official waiting for us, one I'd not seen before, was more aggressive, telling cameraman Khalil: "If you’ve shot anything, I'm going to take you to the airport and deport you."

It took a long time to convince him Khalil hadn't shot any footage. Some journalists we talked to were inside the mosque when they were arrested. How they got out of that threat, I don’t know.

But right now we had only one concern: our taxi driver. We pleaded for his release –by now he could barely speak - but we were ignored.

He was stuttering and trembling as they stuffed him in his car and drove him away.

I still don’t know what’s happened to him. Our ordeal is over, but I fear his may only just be beginning.

That’s the reality of life here under Gadhafi’s rule.

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Filed under: Libya
soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Hellotiki

    Good luck. I really hope that you all get out safe, but WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?! Now they've got hostages! Just f'n great!

    March 11, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Oh anarchy can be so disrespectful towards the freedom of the press sometimes..

      March 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Kaddafi was a born thug, lived as a thug, produced thugs and now he is making sure the world knows it. I will have a couple of beers when I see him in chains facing a judge. Soon I hope.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      It does the heart good to know that Ghaddafi has supporters like Mark over here where it's safe. Send Ghaddafi any "Crush 'em all" cards, Mark?

      March 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      yes Thomas – Gadaffi may do us some good! Are you biased against Muslims? For shame Thomas!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Sounds like you figured out you weren't in Kansas any more. Funny how the rules change in that part of the world huh? Why do you think they are a danger to peace world wide. Nothing is more dangerous than a people that have ran their culture in the ground and no longer have anything to lose.

      March 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • dmodeste

      What exactly is the role of the UN and NATO? We are seeing people killed evey day in Libyia. China and Russia have veto power. I know they are afraid of what is happening in the Middle East because they know it will happen to them so they are trying to stay out of it. Civilizations riise and fall and when the time has come, it will come, the government will not be able to stop it. They have their portion set out for them also. How many innocent people have to die. This is so insane. The world community should be ashamed of itself. I do not want our soldiers involve in another world conflict. It is time for the the other world powers to do the right thing otherwise when when their time comes do not look for help from others.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark J. Perman

      I know it's Shabbat but I really need to get this out of my system. I think a hit squad of specially trained assasins should be sent to Libya to "once and for all" deal with this insanity known as the Qadafi mob. There is no doubt this man is a mass murderer, one who tortures and mames, an opressor of his people, a hijacker and a murderer of men, women, and children aboard Pam Am Flight 103. Why is he still allowed to walk the earth with civilized human beings? Can anyone please answer this question? Where is George Bush Sr. (who caught and jailed Manuel Noriega in 1989) when you need him? Mark Perman

      March 11, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • StanleyRW

      Manueal Noreaga? Are you stupid? We propped up Noreaga until it was no longer convenient for us. LOL!!!

      Bush Jr took him off the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. ROFL...

      March 11, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      BILL and BOB you two sounds like toothless trailer parks idiots with deranged stupidity. Does the over throw of Saddam Hussein ring a bell and the pains and agonies it has brought to US?

      March 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Why don't you just say what you really think. Because CNN wanted a story, now a young taxi driver is probably dead. Maybe you'll get a pulitzer or emmy

      March 12, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      I admire Nick Robertson. I agree he has a story. I do not think his story, as harrowing as it is, belongs in the news flow. He can tell us about it later. For now, tell us the news. tell us about the people you're there to report about. When we've got that settled, tell us your story. Sorry to lack compassion, but you went there voluntarily, not to become a news story. I'm sure your agree.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Joseph J

      I have to admit the whole coverage of the events in Libya are very bias to say the least.
      I speak from the experience of having lived in Libya in the early 80's and although Khadaffi is no saint, I hesitate to say this is anything Khadaffi had a hand in.starting, If Nic Robertson knew the history about Libya, he would understand the tribal history and the fact that the Eastern part has always had a history of being anti-government. There are many journalists in Libya now who are there completely illegally with no Visa, or permission to enter the country, and they are traveling with what is essentially a band of fighters (not "the people") attempting a forceful coup. These journalists are shocked when they are detained or harassed, or when a mortar shell lands near them. It is CNN's job to cover the news, It is not CNN's, or Nic Robert's job to present a one sided story when obviously he does not understand the history of Libya, or it's people. CNN is partially responsible for the government crackdown to begin with. When the violence started, CNN was exaggerating the force being used by the government and bringing the whole world to believe
      there were helicopters and tanks battling the coup plotters. Well they easily advanced almost to Tripoli.
      Khadaffi realized he had nothing to lose using heavy weapons because you Mr. Roberts were reporting every rumor your opposition friends were telling you.

      No Imagine that... when Khadaffi did start to use his military to take the country back, he has managed to crush them in two days, and this whole thing may be over early next week.

      So now what will you report...? "This time He is really using the army"..?

      so you can easily see how your reporting does not add up to what is clearly happening on the ground.
      -Good job sensationalizing things,

      March 12, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Robertson and his crew are there covering the truth of the matter... so you have something to comment on.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      He's doing his job.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • S Abramson

      UNITED STATES You are the damn power and I as a damn American.. OPEN THE HELL UP AND HELP THESE PEOPLE!

      March 12, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. bob

    Being a POW is part of the job.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      Pretty much, yes. Journalists going into this sort of situation know exactly what might happen, and they go in anyway. And it's the only way the outside world gets non-propagandized information.

      I can't believe people are reading this and taking away that the journalists are whining. Armchair griping at its best. The article's pretty damn clear that it's important to note that, despite Gaddafi's claims (propaganda) that journalists are free to report, they're most definitely not – and not just CNN, but every other news organization that's been rounded up. AND they're highlighting the plight of their poor cab driver, to show how Libyan citizens are being treated.

      The Guardian's had a reporter missing for over a week now. He's Iraqi-born, and given how the BBC reporters were treated (the only one badly and repeatedly beaten was the Palestinian stringer) it certainly sounds like Gaddadfi's forces are taking their rage out on people who are identifiably Arab.

      This isn't a sob story about being bullied by Libyan forces, and only a simpleton would read it that way. It's about propaganda and a regime that is completely unhinged.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. meee

    Sooo did you get cool airport stuff?

    March 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Hal

    Quit sensationalizing !....Don/'t go where you don't belong. You're nothing but part of the government run liberal media that has become nothing but a fictional account of what's really happening !!

    March 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • martin

      It's Myanmar/Burma all over again. We will never get all the facts from any side. It's up to independent Libyans with the guts and know how to get the truth out. Silly newsgroups with your reporters who don't blend in. Should have smuggled yourself into the country if you really wanted that story.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Hal..also known as Gadhafi. Peek-a-boo! We see you!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Umbra


      March 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      You sound like Gaddafi's son. You know the one that bought his degree.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • truthnow2011

      Well said Hal. Oh BOOOHOOO, they got roughed up a bit. After writing loads of rubbish on their government and openly supporting "rebels" I am amazed they didn't dump you from a helicopter!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      Did you seriously tell these reporters to stop "sensationalizing" a civil war? Are you just that unimaginably stupid? The flow of information and a free press is what is finally helping to overthrow the dictators of the world and you want them to STOP??!! You cannot be that dense. Not even a fan of Fox News or Coast To Coast AM could be that stupid.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • J PAP

      You are a fool. Go back to shotgunning beers in your van by the river red neck.

      March 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |

      Well said,Truthnow2011. I totally agree with you. I have no sympathy toward the people in the right-wing news media!

      March 11, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      Bill you sound like a deranged Trailer Park toothless white idiot.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*Lobo74

      Good I hope they buttphuck Anderson Cooper toll he squeals.

      March 12, 2011 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. martin

    Trying to get that next big break of a story. It has it's benefits and risks.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • toolate

      These guys love to 'be' the story. Remember 'Gunga Dan (Rather)'? What a crock...

      March 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brandon

    ...and this is the regime our governments are allowing to exist through their inaction. Our collective failure to assist those that are trying to rid themselves of this despot and his authoritarian nightmare, is unforgivable.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • VeryTrue

      I agree 100%.. it goes back to Reagan giving this guy free reign because he was anti-communist.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |

      No Brandon,what is unforgivable here is your ignorance! All this Qadaffi bashing is getting old and shows just how successful the right-wing news media has been in brainwashing the weak minded people here.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Well said RUFFNUTT

      March 12, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Common Sense

    Why sound I hear about your stupidity? You are there to promote yourself. You accepted the risk and shouldn't be complaining about it. Then again, you're not complaining are you? You're just gloating and promoting yourself.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • truthnow2011

      Good one!

      March 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      No, genius. His giving his account of what the conditions are like in Libya. Since Ghaddafi can only be counted on to lie, the world needs to know what the situation is on the ground in Libya. It is a reporter's job to go where important events are happening and if fools like you can only come away with "He's just trying to promote himself" then you're just too stupid to participate in the conversation.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • J PAP

      Another redneck republican with an iq the size of his waist and a world view as large as his mobile home park.

      March 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |

      Thank you,Common Sense. I couldn't have said it better myself.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      Mental. Gaddafi's regime have made a MAJOR talking point of freedom of the press. They're claiming that journalists can roam freely. Because of this claim, it is legitimately newsworthy when the regime rounds up, intimidates and corrals not just the CNN team but apparently most other international media.

      If they DIDN'T report that news teams were being treated this way, then Gaddafi's propaganda would stand unchallenged. Do you see how that works?

      No wonder American news is so screwed up; the population doesn't seem to be able to recognize journalism at its most basic. Would you prefer we just get a regime talking-head and a rebel talking-head, hook them up via satellite and allow them to spit propaganda at each other? Would that make you more comfortable?

      March 12, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. margd

    Man, I feel sorry for that cabbie. This account really brings his fear alive.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. yo

    Yeah, it's time to leave. Forget a story. Think of your family!

    March 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Yinka Lawal

    Why can't the United States size the opportunity to pay back this crazy Gadhafi once and for all over his attrocity in-regard to Pan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie bombing). The US and EUROPE government are suppose to take advantage of the moment. It sick me how they just sit down by doing nothing.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Well, you see Robertson... In this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity. Out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Colonel Gaddafi has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane.

      March 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • baz

      Well actually the thing is that we all know it wasn't Libya who brought down the pan am flight, it was Iran. Libya became the fall guy. However, I agree intervention now would be a good thing if only to provide a no-fly zone over the country to help the people.

      March 12, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. Xchange

    OK we get the picture. Gadhafi is Hitler and his thugs are his Gestapo. Obama don't care only concerned how any decision affects his poles. Wish we had a president that could make a decision.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      President Obama has a small army of advisors from the left and the right. They are privy to information you and I do not have. They have to balance the need to provide humanitarian aid with the sovereignty of another nation. While we may find Libya's current leaders to be bunch of criminals, they do in fact have allies, including Russia and China. If America takes military action against Libya, the other major powers in the area will certainly become involved.

      Then you'll be complaining about gas reaching $8 per gallon instead of $4.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ruh_roh

    Any way CNN can send over Nancy Grace or Jane Valez-Mitchell.??

    March 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      Have you noticed that Fox sent no one at all...

      March 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve


    Typical Arab thugocracy. They are in the middle of a civil war, and still they rant about Israel even down to the lowliest thugs.

    Right on cue.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Golberg

      The crew gets gets kidnaped and that's all you pick out of the article. By the way they are partially right, people should be filming all the sh1t the racist Israelis do to Palestinians

      March 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      What, like watch their kids get killed by Palestinians? Or did you not check the news today? Family of 5 murdered by the peaceful Palestinians just this afternoon.

      March 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Newslover

      wow Steve, you clearly only watch fox or CNN.. to hear about *tear* the 5 israelis that got killed...booboo... newsflash steve.. if american news showed what happened on the OTHER SIDE... you would hear about the hundreds that get killed...unfortunately for you, and every other America, you only hear what happens to Israelis...since well, the media is jewish run!!!

      Ignorance truly is not bliss...and instead of being so ignorant, why dont you do some research before opening your mouth. You probably dont care how many libyans get killed since they are muslim right?

      March 12, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jad

    II can't believe the idiots that babble "why are you there?"

    Newsflash for you, the person is a journalist reporting back. Without the brave accounts of the men and women in journalism, you wouldn't even know what's happening in the world. Oh wait, that's what you want, right? To drink your beer and have no care whatsoever about anything that's happening. Sorry, the world of news is misunderstanding you.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      I couldn't agree with you more. I just started reading these comments and am horrified that people are even thinking that way. These are incredibly brave people who risk their lives to get to the truth so the rest of the world can know. It's how you stop the "Hitlers" of the world. Thank them, don't denigrate them.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. cafreespirit

    I pray that the cabbie is OK, but honestly, good investigative and honest reporting. Its refreshing to see some real news and real reporters in places that regular people can't get to or know about. CNN has become such a fluff-pit, so I was surprissed to actually come across this. Be safe.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
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