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. VCMD

    Does anyone believe this crap? Where is the objectivity? Just because somebody kicks these reports, they automatically assume they were Gaddafi's man? What if they are playing into the hands of opposition who will behave like Gaddafi when they are in power? Which country allows reporter a free pass to cover these dangerous places and should they waster their time and energy controlling the situation or protecting these idiots who are doing this only for money or career? Did US not close all airspace on 9/11 and if any news group wanted it's choppers in the air, would they allow it?

    March 12, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. BuzzMann

    "millions a day".....Really,and just where are you getting your figures?

    March 12, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Adam

    Technically, this uprising has not been deemed as a war. So make up another excuse to murder thousands of innocent lives.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. MMeans

    Glad these guys weren't hurt. HOWEVER, what did you expect in the middle of a civil war? And the worst threat was "I"m going to deport you"? I get SO tired of Americans thinking that "it won't happen to me" or "i'm an American, so they won't touch me". Different country, different rules people

    March 12, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. saleh Mneina

    Thank you Mr. Robertson.
    Thanks to your brave crew and to CNN for taking a stand and giving a voice to the oppressed masses in Libya.
    As a Libyan, I am familiar with the kind of logic one hears there, an upside-down kind of logic it hearts the brain, but it is also lethal. Exactly in the same way that Gaddafi is one clown who is also deadly as Anderson Cooper eloquently put it. I apologize for what happened to you and to your crew, and hope you come back to visit Libya once it is liberated and in-sync with the rest of the free world.
    Best wishes,

    March 12, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. herrsonic

    Even Gadhafi is angry with the shoddy reporting, poor grammar, and lack of double checking so prevalent in most of cnn´s articles.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ron

    Did you notice that all the bad comments about America come from people with names like, Akmaed, Abdula. shiekadu, sief? But they are living here in America! If they think living under the rules of those theocracry's and tyrants are so great why don't they go back? One of them said " Democracy and sharia don't mix! Your absolutely right! Democracy is freedom, Sharia is slavery!!! Look around! If their was no Muslims or Islam, we would have total peace in the world!!!

    March 12, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. Lorena

    Thank you for sharing your story. Gaddafi and his followers are obviously evil egomaniacs...God is watching...and they will all be punished for their actions against humanity. My prayers are with those innocent Libyan people.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. Marcin

    @ CC I suspect Nick Robertson didn't show w written permit because he didn't have one, they don't expect you to have any type of permit so you show it on your own accord. These thugs are not well trained and educated NATO or other UN police forces which are kind and gentle so their reaction is obviously harsh and often silly, however you can't assume bad will since they didn't do any real harm and drove Nick straight back to his hotel.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. Paul Willson

    Get CNN out of Libya . It will be a bloodbath soon an d if your people are there well their fate wikll be bloody

    March 12, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  11. Banderman

    Yeah, kinda like watching the absurdity in Wisconsin.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Andy

    Bring it on buddy!
    Bring your hate to my doorstep and I'll teach you about my 2nd amendment rights!

    March 12, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

    It has been from the very beginning!!! How much worse can it get there than it has been??? The People will win at the end!!!

    March 12, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Candace

    Arabs and African's seems to be barbarians. All of them.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. George Smith

    ha haha ... This guy, Nic Robertson, is a ridiculous cry baby... With all due respect, Nicky, you're covering a war, what makes you think that the army of Kadhafi will treat you different than how they've been treating other journalists? ... After all, the mind of one solder is different than another one... one minute you may be safe talking to one of them or taking pics, but the next minute someone else will be offended, after all, nobody likes Americans over there... So you should just pack and get out of there and stop your crying.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
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