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. Andrew Jackson

    Why do we keep shipping food to feed these animals in the middle east? Stop shipping food and let them eat sand.

    March 12, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. Citizen

    This is almost funny. This happens EVERY DAY in Cuba, yet because it doesn't "hit the jaclpot" as the reporter says and a "CNN" human is not involved its no big deal. So CNN ignores this in Cuba, but its a big story because it happened to them.

    March 12, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. 2pac

    Gadafi a og fo real. If I own a country n fools start trippin ima handle ma bidness. I bust a cap in all dem suckaz, yall tryina take ma money? What? Pop pop pop daz da sound of ak goin off ya dig

    March 12, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  4. tcaros

    Why can't they ever grab someone like Glenn Beck or O'Reilly? Then they would be doing us all a favor.

    March 12, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. 2pac

    Gadafi chillin right na smokin a blunt smilin like yall wanna play rough ok. He a cold dude tho fo real, but daz jus da way it iz sum things will neva change

    March 12, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ran

    CNN News reporting are base on all sort of lies and deceit. CNN people are a bunch of liars. I been watching and reading CNN news and saw that it contain lies. CNN crews are not reporters but liars. The Devil manage and controls CNN. CNN = Liars

    March 12, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • acutemind

      I agree.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bob1

    The Middle East's culture is unfortunately but factually, infested with lies and corruption to the point where people's conscious lost the sense of right and wrong, and they would tell you a lie with a smile, without you being able to detect it. Thus is the dilemma and the catastrophic outcome and product of this culture. You are looking at long years, before all these lies, values and moral corruption is cleansed from people. Huge task the people of the Middle East have the will and the desire to accomplish it? That's what's doubtful.

    March 12, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. Andrew Jackson

    Funny how the rebels "Death to America" is now turning into "Help us save our butts!!"

    Stop shipping food to the middle east. Let them eat sand.

    March 12, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Marcin

    Did you show these "thugs" your written permit to go anywhere you like issued by high Libyan authorities? Did you consider that they might have "evacuated" you for your own safety? Don't you expect that you might find trouble or even death in the "hot spots" that you go to? Is this the most "traumatic" experiance in your journalistic career?

    March 12, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • CC

      It appears the "thugs" did not ask for any written permits and if their intentions were to protect the reporters I doubt it would be necessary to introduce themselves by shoving automatic weapons in their faces. That is not the behavior of someone who is trying to protect someone and escort them to a safe place. It is the behavior of someone who wishes to terrorize another and prevent them from being in an area where legitimate protestors might be. To think protests won't happen because the reporters are not present is a fanatasy. Yes, these reporters do expect danger, but when government officials tell them they are welcome to come and report events and then order government military personnel to harass reporters, beat them, or worse.....that is not expected. However, Gadhafi and his family follow their own set of rules and their desire is only to protect their own "cushy" lifestyle in Libya and keep the Libyan people under their control for as long as possible.

      March 12, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. Greg Gilbert

    Interesting they put the less fun board that discourages comments up. CNN afraid people going to be cheering for the Libyans? This is unusual for this type of discussion. They usually just put these more restrictive forums up on money issues or on their left wing spin stories only.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Siggie

    War is hell! Edward R. Murrow this isn't! Christiane Amanpour is the only CNN correspondent who appears to be able to deliver a calm, rational foreign report!!

    March 12, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. PAPilot

    Journalism is supposed to be the reporting of fact, not this hyperbolic, over-embellished nonsense... just because he didn't get his way, he's whining about it and falsifying his story for dramatic effect.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. CrystalAng3121


    What you say about Shari'a and democracy is true. Many muslims, including my husband, fail to know the history of their own "laws" and how they were formed. Islam promotes democracy, Shari'a promotes, in many ways but not all, inequality and hate.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Hateful posts are the reason for the the "report abuse" link ...

      March 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wayne

    Pointing a weapon at someone and then jacking a shell in the firing chamber is Hollywood nonsense. The reporter lied to attempt drama.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. CC

    To Jacquinn are delusional and ignorant. Apparently you are under the beautiful spell of the Gadhafi family and all that entails. Enjoy your life as one of their obedient puppets.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
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