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. CrystalAng3121

    Jass:

    Name-Calling does not accomplish anything and even, worded in a scholastic sense, is a fallacy in logic. So like what another person said on these blogs, "go back to the kiddie table and let the adults here talk." Just because you don't agree with what someone says or believes does not mean you have a right to slander them.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nunajer Bidnis

    "CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson and his crew"?

    Why not 'CNN Producer Tommy Evans and his crew'?

    Why not 'Libyan cameraman Khalil Abdallah, contracted by CNN to risk his life filming his country's violent military oppression, act as a tour guide, unofficial expert on where the action is, travel translator, emergency interpreter, local hero and his crew'?

    The Media seems to always send the t.v. star and his brains–the producer–while leaving the real work to a crew of locals who risk their lives making sure the t.v. star is projected as a hero back home, and who repeatedly save the Americans lives by placing themselves in harm's way.

    By the way, if an order had gone out to round-up all the t.v. crews and bring them back to their comfortable hotels, they were never in any danger. Thus this story is about Nic buying into the bluff and telling us all about his undue fear. Isn't a 'senior' correspondent supposed to have more experience than this?

    Why not do a little digging on the real story? If Nic really has a face to face relationship with Gadhafi's son, why publish this false alarm? Why hasn't Tommy Evans had Nic phone-up the hot-shots and ask why they were double-crossed?

    By the way Nic, nice field reporting khaki’s.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. CrystalAng3121

    Illi Ahmar:

    Salam. The USA does have a revolution coming but it will probably be due to the devaluation of our currency (which will probably become worthless) and how our government choses to deal with the problem.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. CrystalAng3121

    I'm sorry, are your laws globally recognized so that they may be practiced in every country? You don't winn the hearts and minds of people by threatening or using violence. And what message do you think is given about Islam to outside viewers who are less educated? Reform your laws. They don't have to be the same as ours but they should have a respect for human life and rights.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Name*jimmy

    To all the news crews for having courage enough to go into hostile environments around the globe, I for one am greatful.
    For I know that the only source of the truth comes from my countries continued efforts to let the world know exactly what is really going on. Thank you all, and God bless you all : )

    March 12, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Richard

    My heart goes out to the Libyan people who are fighting for their freedom. Nic, thank you very much for your extremely fine reporting and for your trying to provide truth to the world! Obviously, you are dealing with a madman of a dictator, the one who caused the bombing of Pan American 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Democracy will prevail!!!

    March 12, 2011 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. angela

    What about NATO?? They are doing nothing as usual. They don't want the no fly zone. Libya needs help NOW

    March 12, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. john

    Ok you lost a cnn man and he is lost now ===you mite not fine him ==== what dose that tell you we have a wore on your hands ===you have to take the army out off the map and you have bring down the bulding were Gadhafi is at and start all over with a new one back ==== we have our ships there and you have bom them up now be for it is to leat doing it =====U S A and Canada ===== get your ships in there and jets and bom the place up and get it over with for the kids ===or put Gorge Bush in to do and finish the job ====we have all the wore power and it time to us it now === befor a lot of blood in on the sand land ====use your head he his wasting your time and money for your ships over there by the tax payers money do the job and get the hell out of there now====dont be a domey of the hold world ====get ofyour ass and do the job you came for or just turn around your ships and go home ===the fiting men need you now ===are you going to weight until the oil is gone and blowing up and leve the kids out of life to have a life === god is watch you make the wrong move ===== i am so mad you have a vot on this mad man gadhafi and his mad sons ====gorge should have finish the bom job and it would been a better place for there kids now =====get them jets with booms now and dont wast a lot time doing it =====the grown men to have a new have a life not have tank go after kids that trying to get a better life =====fusk the U N get in and take them tanks out and jets =====show whe has the supper power of the world ===dont let Gadhafi show you and put us to shame U S A And CANADA ===get of your ass and do the no fly sozne fast ......

    March 12, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. GimmeABreak

    This silly report ranks up there with the infamous Anderson Cooper “they’re pushing me” report out of Egypt. It brings to mind a Seinfeld episode, “The Summer of George.” Can’t you just picture Robertson and Anderson Cooper sitting in a café together somewhere in the Middle East? ROBERTSON: “We don't have it. But maybe the two of us, working together, at full capacity, could do the job of one normal journalist." COOPER: "Then each of us would only have to be like a half-reporter. That sounds about right."

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

    I am so disappointed with our government specially with our president. I know that starting some sort of military aid to the people of Libia is politically risky and unwise but is the right thing to do. He can not preach for freedom and democracy in the world and stay away from the struggle from all this Arab countries. Now that is very popular to justify wars elsewhere in the name of national security I deeply believe that dictators like Gadafi are a threath to it. They are the ones that oppress their people in the name of Western interests. More freedom and Democracy in Lybia would evolve in a world safer for Lybians , Americans and the whole world.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. teather

    Cop a sneak you idiot

    March 12, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. David M.

    Yep, better round up all those news crews. Wouldn't want the truth to seep out of Libya now, would you? As much as I'm opposed to any kind of US intervention there, it looks increasingly like we need to do something. It is going to take a measured response, but it will have to be significant. Something that will stop Gadaffy in his tracks. And that will facilitate his funeral.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. SAM

    Oh yea,Thugs,You mean Like In IRAQ and AFGHANASTAN RIGHT ? I HOPE SO...MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

    March 12, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. kingmikeluster.com

    Humanity is at war with it self .....Libya is Iraq all over again off with the head of.Libya time to liberate the people of Libya. Get Gadhafi out of power before its too late....

    March 12, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. mike p.

    I don't see as an American how we are sitting back and letting a people get slaughtered, who are fighting for peace and justice just as America did in the revolutionary war. As an ally to Libya we must help them I would no longer feel like an american if we didn't. This is the main reason I dropped out of marine corps boot camp when I was 18 because the wrong people are controlling america's armies. Call your state representative and tell them we must help Libya.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121

      How do we help Libya when we have no money? Something need to be done but what?

      March 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
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