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. MrMudkip

    I like how the media always has to send reporters out into the middle of things, no matter how dangerous the situation. It's a complete disregard for your employees all in the name of ratings...

    March 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klaark

      What a stupid comment. Nobody twists their arms. They go to danger places to tell you what's going on, and you crap on them for it. I suppose if he had a gun and little uniform, you'd call him a veteran, salute him, and kiss his feet when he lands back home?

      Soldiers are hired thugs for the oil companies. Reporters get paid less to do nothing more than inform the populace so they can make "educated" decisions come election day. Talk about your thankless, hopeless, jobs...educating little idiots, and I suspect Republicans, like you

      March 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. oscar

    All I can say right now is that I hope all of you guys over there are safe and GOD BLESS YOU! We here will keep praying for you.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 7o3y

    I dont agree with invading this country..i do support giving these rebels an opportunity to take a sadistic ignorant leader and whether they are for democracy or not at least have a chance for change.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AmericasTrouble

    If we enter Libya in midst of this civil crisis, we will be forced to assist the many other dictatorships around the world that brutally attack their citzens. I bet if we were to enter Libya, the many that support it now will say, " Why would the president spend money to assist the Libya when we are in a financial crisis." Politicians and their supporters, both republican and democrat, look at ways viciously attack one another then come up with solutions.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Indybek

    Fox trolls have poor grammer.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Saint Phlip

    Ordeal? What ordeal?

    You go into a country that you know is in the midst of major turmoil, with two major factions going back and forth, thinking some little piece of paper is going to protect you, drag some guy into the middle of it, maybe getting him killed because you don't want to walk, get arrested and released in basicly no time, and you think it's an ordeal?

    You may have been scared while it was happening, and rightly, but you should NOT have been surprised. I fact, you should have expected it.

    Jeeze- what dweebs. Go cover the 4 H club. It's more your style.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. effelbee

    You really are an inarticulate racist invasion-crazed fool.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Agnim

    Oh quit the bellyaching! Sounds not as bad as what US forces did to spanish journalists & others in Iraq - they are 'six feet under'!

    March 12, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Libyan

    In short you were treated as you were working for the state TV not CNN. In other words, you much tell what Qeddafi wants you to say or else... I hope, the taxi driver still alive.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 420High

    CNN its news not the truth, we as americans have to use our heads to think about what that rich channel wants to put on TV.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. gordon atl

    First of all, it's Libya, not Lybia. Now that the name is cleared up, I would like to say I agree with Che-3. Why should we sent military aid to Libya? We are spread too thin and are in a crisis on the home front because of wars. Why must it fall on us? There are other world powers and powers in the region that can help. But they all stay out of it. They rebels started it, they can handle it and if not, so be it. That is LIBYAN business, not the business of America. We need to dust off the Monroe Doctrine.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Southerner

    US gets criticized by almost all nations for getting involved in middle east affairs. We should have left Suddam Hussein and his dynasty to rule Iraq for hundreds of years. We should have let Iran invade and control Iraq. Literally, these nations, not just Iran and Iraq, would be all over themselves in a more severe case of chaotic mess and oppression if it werent for the U.S. and international community's interests in their stability. They should have remained nomads and shephards because their Sharia system is inept to handle any more responsibility. It is simple, over burdening strict social law leads to lack of transparency = corruption. The law must take into account that all humans are the same and need room to grow by making mistakes. Religious equality is very important. Applying one standard to muslims but another to all non muslims says something about Islam (such as the Jizya tax). How can cutting off hands and feet for 'sins' such as thievery be more productive than a rehabilitation through outreach and love? Are middle east countries a lost cause? We used to think central america was a lost cause but they have at least the forgivining enough law system to allow for improvement and social growth.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • WAKE UP!

      Hear! Hear! 🙂

      March 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Draino

      It has nothing to do with our perception of Mid East society or our meddling in their affairs for the sake of democracy. The only reason we take any interest in these heathen societies is simple....OIL. And it apparently doesn't matter if Bush I, II or Hussein Obama are in office. Young U.S. soldiers are dying to protect American industry's investment in OIL.

      Riddle me this....natural gas is basically cheaper than water right now and a viable source of fuel. Why is it not being used in an effective manner? Simple, Big Oil is more interested in the profit margins of oil than they are natural gas and the needs of the American public. The same goes with our president. American people have no say and neither does Hussein Obama. Big Oil runs this country, period.

      March 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ken

    Interesting, these comments, well like larry the USA army puke..how can you be a left wing liberal basterd and be a soldier?...Oh paycheck maybe.. could not find another job? you views are unintelligent and plain dumb.One would think that a soldier would have more realistic views, but then again you dont sound like much of a soldier.You are one of those monkeys that thinks you had to be in action to have a view of importance. When we all know its a LOOK AT ME SYNDROME..wah wah.. so you got shot at, we all did...get over it.

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

    Libya is surrounded by oil rich arab states made rich by us buying their oil. Why are they not in Libya helping the libyans. This is not our war. The people of the middle east need to sort out their own troubles, America doesnt understand the culture and they sure dont understand ours. Any attempt by America to help will be twisted by the arab nations as American imperialism and quite frankly America cannot afford another war its own citizens although free arenot exactly in good shape right now. Do not get me wrong I think the brutal murder of these civilians is trafic but there must be other ways to help them wihtout us getting invovled.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maan

      As an Arab working in the media in the 'west', i totally agree with you

      March 13, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. erik

    You talk foolish this is not Obama's fault,we cant come to the rescue of everyone we are in two wars now and look at the state our country is in. This nation can not afford to send any additional troops to anymore countries point black and it has nothing to do with Obama not being a real man and all that other hateful mess you are spewing.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
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