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. Cesar

    So many ignoramuses posting in here telling us Americans to jump up on our high horses and go galloping into Libya to take dowm Mohammar Qadaffi and put those "wonderful" rebels into office. The ignorance of these people is truly repulsive and shows the reason that so many right-wing politicians keep getting elected to office. No wonder this country is sliding downhill.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      Thank you,Cesar. I coldn't have said it better myself as I completely agree with you about all these ignorant posts here hollering for us to jump into Libya just like we did in Vietnam. When will these people ever learn?????

      March 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DAN

    TO BAD THEY DIDN'T KILL THE DAM MEDIA PEOPLE.

    THE MEDIA PEOPLE R JUST RABBLE ROUSERS!

    March 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      How true that is,Dan!!! Except that these right-wing people are only too successful in brainwashing the public!

      March 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lets keep it real

    I love them ,Courageous,with a little fear,talk about perfect in love!

    March 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Art Vandolaye

    I remember Libyan people greeting and cheering their returning PanAm airline bomber terrorists. Now they expect the world to help them? Shame on them all. -Art

    March 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Safiyyah

      One thing to remember in dictatorial governments most of these are staged by the government. You are rounded up and you are told what to do or else.

      March 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lets keep it real

    Please,let's reason ,you are listening to them ! Why??? Please don't stop them to report to us everything.CNN is Great,How are you going to know if it wasn't fot them,They risk there lifes not just for the glory!Peace Man!Love above All!!!

    March 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mr.graves

    obama yes may be a coward and a socialist, but we are not the worlds police force.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Baysno

      If u are not the world police force, then stop talking about democracy to other countries, talk the talk and walk the walk, this coming from a country with Micheal backmann as one of their congress woman. Fools are being send to rule u people. It might be painful to know but u people are turning to a third world country, it's just a matter of time. Lol

      March 13, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(USA ARMY)

      You're exactly right,Baysno. Sarah Palin,Michele Bachmann and their ignorant,hateful,foul-speaking,warmongering Tea Party followers are indeed turning the U.S. into a third world country!!!

      March 13, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(USA ARMY)

      Well put,Baysno. Thank you.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. Makior

    This is the fight of the people of Libya, not Americans. They didn't start asking anyone for assistance until they started losing ground. Is it the job of the US to come charging in with our military every time some rebel group tries to over throw their leader and fails? I'm not without sympathy for the civillians being killed, but this simply is not our battle.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. james

    What is this guy whining about? He knows the score. He put himself in that position, and now he wants sympathy? FORGET IT!! No one's fault but yours. You stick your nose in the middle of a civil war (no matter what the clucks in DC say, it's a civil war), sometime it's gonna get an AK shoved up it.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klaark

      He's reporting on what happened to him, you stupid person. Journalists are getting roughed up in Libya. That's news, so sorry. Did they not cover that in plumbing school? Didn't come up when you trained to be a Walmart greeter?

      March 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Klaark

    I love the respect journalist get versus soldiers.

    Let's break it down, shall we?

    An American soldier is a hired thug for an oil company, pretending to fight for freedom and democracy.
    A journalist is a hired pencil pusher working for a media corporation that pretends to be informing people when it's really entertaining them.

    Both go into dangerous places. Soldiers get guns and body armor. Reporters get notebooks and khaki pants.

    The soldier gets paid a fat check and has royal benefits for the rest of his life, paid for by tax dollars. Reports get paid a salary and okay benefits, paid for by a private company.

    Reports get lumped in with pedos, lawyers, and politicians, while the soldier gets called a hero and is thanked by Republicans on the street.

    Why? Is it the gun? Is it the uniform? Why kiss the mercenary's butt?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bright G

    To M Gadhafi and SON The man and woman that die may be the solution to that things you NEED.
    Everyone else is connected to you somewhere else,when you harassment some one with a gun you are showing WICKNESS of your self.the NAME of JESUS is been name over Libya in JESUS NAME.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Texan

    You truly are a moron.

    And pizzl, LOL regarding your statement that "everyone hates America." Being the only American on a recent tour of New Zealand, the 40 others in my group were all very friendly, but each felt the U.S. has lost it's stature in the world due to one George W. Bush. Thanks George.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      @Texan did you even read pizzl's whole post you drooling redneck? He goes on to say "it's not really hate.." keep reading, I know it's tough for someone like you, but give it a try!

      March 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • georgia

      Ok really just because he uses of a name of a southern state you are automatically going to label him an illiterate redneck. Just because someone lives in the Southern US doesn't mean they are redneck or illiterate.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Draino

    Let em all kill each other. They are nothing more than a backward society which happens to have oil underneath the ground. Speaking of, if Bush were still in office, he would be taking some grief over the current oil/gas prices...curious why Hussein Obama is not?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. db

    Obama is an incompetent boob that does not belong in Office, of course none of our Congressmen or Senators don't belong in office either as they are all powerhungary crooks that think of nothing but themselves. When does the Second American Revolution begin or did it begin in 2010?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hadenuffalready

    Everybody here is an armchair quarterback. Your feeble attempts at analyzing what you know nothing about is keeping me laughing. journalists seem too think they are immune from all the worlds troubles. They can just go in there and everyone will leave them to their business. The rest of the world is not the united states you all love to condemn. They kill anyone who is against their leaders. you all witness it daily. Also, as you cry that we are in wars around the world, why do you think there has been no recent war fought on american soil. Because we have sense enough to get involved before that happens to keep a balance. Like it or not, we choose our involvement and have done a pretty good job of keeping the crackpots of the world from attempting an invasion. Obama is a non element. the world laughs at him. Forget who said it, but it's not the fact that an inexperinced fool is in the white house, it is the fact that the US electorate allowed and accepts the fact that a fool is in the white house....

    March 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • acutemind

      "the world laughs at him"??? Really? Because YOU speak on behalf of "the world" or have a direct line to "the world". The irony of an idiot like you chastising the other poster here for pretending to be armchair generals when in the same breath you pretend to speak on behalf of some "the world" is so tangible you can cut it with a knife.

      March 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CG

    Really sorry about what had happened and what continues to happen in Libya and the Arab world, as these seemingly democratic overhauls are dangerous breeding zones for further criminal fundamentalism.

    But I did laugh out loud when I read "One-handed driving at its most worrying."

    March 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
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