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

    Enough far left enabling policies that talk tough and do nothing. Is Obama and Clinton's actions going to match the rhetoric? Will they boycott Libyan petroleum? NO! We must take minimal steps to ensure Democracy takes shape across the middle east. Eliminate their air defenses and assassinate their tyrant. We don't need to invade or kill babies to see Democracy take shape. Why is our policy always to do too little or too much? The far left liberals are cowards and the right wing neo cons are too blood thirsty and stupid. Next America must enforce sanctions against China! They are greedy corrupt communists who use the same means of control that Gadhaffi does. Viva free democratic capitalist societies!

    March 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Sorry folks,I never posted the above(Cesar;6:33). I just wish that this jerk would quit spewing his ignorance under my name. That's all.

      March 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. linzel

    Realize that this situation has no easy answer. Anyone who thinks a decision on this one is easy should give their head a shake. Comparing the current situation to Iraq isn't accurate. Comparing to Afghanistan isn't either. At least now you have a popular home built uprising against a dictator. Democracy cannot be given to people. People MUST want and fight for it. The act of commitment ensures the population will remember and support the outcome for a long time.
    I could say more but I gotta run. Simply getting the Arab League to support a free air zone will allow a more fair fight. Unilateral support for either side cannot be endorsed. Support from Arab nations to support long term change is necessary. Taking sides isn't really correct but attempting to prevent slaughter by an uneven fight may be.

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

    Nic was fortunate that they were not shot on the spot. This is the way of Libya. I have been to the country a couple of times and if the wrong people hear you, you disappear mostly permanently. There are worries about the west being involved in resolving the situation but there are times where you have to do what is right versus what is expedient. The US has made mistakes with Afghanistan and Iraq but hopefully we have learned. At the same time we must remember our own past and the battles we have fought for our own freedoms, we need to help those who are in need. For, those who believe in a higher power perhaps this is a test to see if we are for humanity and freedom or for self interest? Time will tell and in the meantime I keep praying for the people of Libya.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cesar

    @ Fake Cesar: whichever fake Cesar you are... Nobody wants to hear your communist/anarchist drivel. If you love dictators so much then you can send them your money or your women so they can have their way. Either way nobody here cares about your desire to divide everyone just like the right and left wing thugs! My fo fo make sure all yall kids don't grow!

    March 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gazapo

    Grow up. What is the big deal. Learn to report from tough spots. Maybe you need a skirt. Big deal really. When they throw you in jail, for 2 days without food, then you can cry. Not for this.

    March 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. HelenHull102951

    Shame on you reporters for going where there is unrest everyone knows that you are sent there to spy on the country or countris in question, and bad thing is that you are working for a government that's too afraid to go there themselves. And the funny thing is that this gov denies knowing you if you get captured or killed.. " NOW THAT'S FUNNY"

    March 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jenn, Los Angeles, CA

    At least folks in Libya recognize the distortion of Western media. Maybe CNN does not need to be there?

    March 12, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Revolution

    Libyan people if you want your FREEDOM, LIBERTY. JUSTICE. INDEPENDENCE and all of those other good things you must sacrifice for it for Freedom will not be handed to you on it's knee with a silver plater, lives will be the cost of it but the rewards are worth it so go and DIE for your country because that's the ONLY way you will achieve your goal.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

    It just shows Obama listen to the People that knows what is best!!! While Bush just listen to Cheney...

    March 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Charmahal

    Dear NIC,please be careful ,we watch you every night on 360 .Thank you.

    March 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ref4

    i say just effin forget about the middle east, if they want to kill each other lettem, then we'll just nuke whoevers left

    March 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    I don't think it is any business of the USA, UK or anyone else. Libya needs to sort out its own politics.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rob Hannigan

    I'm saddened to hear these mens experience and my prayers go out to the taxe driver. As an American I'm sorry world but I knew this would happen. First the middle east then we'd go to Africa not that it matters what I said. But America can't come to the rescue this time. We are too strained right now if we could lord knows we'd be there. We unfortunately have to get down with Afghanistan and Iraq first.
    Europe you need to stop this one. UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Get a force in there get permission from the eastern part of the country. Forget the Arab league one they gave you the go ahead on a no fly zone. But these rebels can't stop Qaddafi any ways.
    In the words of the great American Admiral William Halsey hit hard, hit fast and hit often.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 1Serious

    Listen to cries of these morons from the ' Cartoon News Network '
    Ha ha ha... where are your cries from Ivory Coast or Somalia? Oh that is right they don't have Oil...
    ha ha ha

    March 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rael

    nick, all youve been throught in Lybia in known for over 40 years to everybody in civilized countries, although EU countries and EU presidents/prime ministers were treating this man as someone civilized! someone you can do biz as a regular person! Scothish and UK courts/JUGES even released a Lybian terrorist who murdered more than 300 inocent persons in order to please this murder! you as a jornalist can show the hypocritical and cinical side of those EU countries/governants that are now shocked withh the man wich is known by his brutality for more than 40 years, just hope the Amercans can do something as have done in Bosnia, because if lybian people depend on eurOpean governments.... Lybian people will continue to be massacred

    March 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
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