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. Doyle Wiley, MI

    You went into a area of extreme unrest and you came out alive, I think they treated you pretty dam good.

    March 13, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. laura from willis

    My prayers and thoughts are with Nick and crew, and the Taxi driver, who was obviously thought to be one of us. How horrible.

    March 13, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brandon

    I don't know if pleading for the taxi driver's well being was the best thing to do? Poor guy is right, how could you of thought your speaking up for him would do any good?

    March 13, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. Frank wite

    That's what you get for sticking your nose where it does'nt belong..... You should be happy you walked away with your life.

    March 13, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dr Perry Fisher

    They should have beaten the crap out of that CNN crew better yet they should catch that old goat wolf blitzer and the girley boy anderson cooper and do them the same

    March 13, 2011 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. sleeper0013

    WOW we are a nation of hypocrisy, we attacked Iraq twice for less.

    March 13, 2011 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. Asian

    When Gaddafi win over the rebels (and it means a massacre of thousands), Obama and the US will be the most hated country in the world for their hypocrisy and cowardice since it's only them who can stop this atrocity. People of the US, do you forget that you also need France's help to get your independence?

    March 13, 2011 at 3:34 am | Report abuse |
  8. robert

    and in a few months Gadhafi will be back being entertained and courted by every western power that matters. There are no morals in politics!

    March 13, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. ETCH

    Which atrocity is the flavor of the day? I find "Just a Minute" to be quite fair and on balance with comments. I saw little mention of the Arab League. They appear as ineffective as the U.N. in contributing to a peaceful co-existence in the region. I sadly sense that the regime in Libya will prevail and will reap such vengence that no other body of its citizens will ever again consider rebellion.

    March 13, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • CNNOBSERVER1

      I would like to see CNN research the comments made by world observers on how to deal with Hitler during his takeover in Germany and compare those with how to deal with Gadhafi. Had we dealt with Hitler in time, perhaps millions of lives would have been saved. By not dealing with Gadhafi, members of the human race tell more about themselves than Gadhafi. I feel for the people in Libya who were under the impression that the full weight of the United States government was behind our president's remarks that Gadhafi had to go. President Reagan dealt with Gadhafi in just one evening and he got the message. Looks like Gadhafi got a different message from our president these last few days. Don't know if America can afford to look like a paper tiger as it will invite more problems elsewhere. We appreciate CNN and Nic bringing the news to us, regardless of anyone's political leanings.

      March 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Xugos

      Truth, you just played into their hands. Why do you think AQ releases calls like that? They do it to get paranoia-bound people like you to turn against the people of Libya fighting for their freedom so that Libyans in turn turn against the West and play into Islamist groups, like AQ's, hands.

      This is a rebellion BY the people, any group other than the Libyan people is pretty much irrelevant.

      March 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ETCH

    We have to be cautious in use of our economic, political or military intervention. While I take no joy in many of the regimes in Africa and the Middle East, something always fills a vacuum and we have little control who or what that will be.

    If you were a Libyan, who would you turn to for guidance? Do you expect that "The Colonel and clan" leaves on Sunday and things will be peaches and cream on Monday? In the 60's – 80's we did the balancing act of deciding to be supportive of a friendly tyrant and harsh to those "un-American" types. We were played like a puppet by both sides and the threat of turning coat to the Soviets usually delivered whatever they wanted

    March 13, 2011 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    If that taxi driver is killed, his blood will be on CNN's head.

    March 13, 2011 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Trace

      Chris, no offence, but you're an idiot. CNN people did not want this driver to be caught. It is of no relation that the innocent taxi driver was involved because of CNN. In a way, yes, you could say that if CNN was never in the country to begin with then the driver would not have been captured. But that is a bunch of "what-if" non sense. Maybe you need to re-read the part of the article saying the CNN crew wanted him to be released before themselves. And Your blood will be on my hands lol

      March 13, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      "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."

      Trace, try reading with both eyes open. How many innocent souls have been lost at the hands of reckless, and negligent news personnel throughout history? Never mind, I take it you're somehow affiliated, how else can your response be explained.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • astro707

      @ Chris...u are a retard with out a question! So in your opinion no gernalist should go to any war torn country on the pursute of the true so that the surounding countries and the world my lend the people of the war torn country a had.....as in what the Libyan people are asking for... yes it is to bad that this taxi driver is getting the short end of the stick but its not due to the journalist causing the problem....from what i read with my own 2 eyes is its Gaddafi's men that took him away and it will be Gaddafi's med that inflict harm on him and it will be Gaddafi's med that will continue to do harm to the Libyan people long after CNN is gone and long after the rebels/the people of lybia are dead.....

      March 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BNE

    Why does CNN call them thugs? Why not call them "freedom fighters" or at least place the word 'thug' within parentheses, just as you did when referring to the terror attack in Israel in which 5 family members, including a month- old baby where slaughtered in their sleep.
    Only when CNN's employees are directly affected by acts of barbarism and terror do they refer to the perpetrators as "thugs". In other cases involving Israel the use of parentheses comes into play, hinting that CNN thinks that terror attacks (on Israeli) can also be viewed otherwise. Shame on you CNN for your double standards.

    March 13, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      To be quite frank with you. Israel is as much a part of the problem in this part of the world as they are the solution. Religious ideals mixed in with creating settlements they have no business putting where they are putting them is making any realistic peace in the region, impossible. And to be even more honest, I think that Israel endangers the United States in a huge way. The actions of both sides make peace in the middle east only possible when one side is wiped out, since neither side has any desire to live with the other.

      March 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • PLO

      BNE, get a life!

      March 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • analibyana

      You've got it switched! The article is right to use "thugs". Robertson is talking about Gaddafi government security forces manhandled Nic Robertson's team and kidnapped the taxidriver. These are the security forces attacking democracy protesters. The Freedom Fighters are the opposition protesting and pushing for revolution, they have nothing to do with this article.

      March 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ian Yarran

    No problems if you were embedded?

    March 13, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. toddsaed@hotmail.com

    reflect on the moment of death, the words in anger and hate spoken will follow you through billions of years
    in the spirit world, is it worth it?

    March 13, 2011 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  15. toddsaed@hotmail.com

    billions of years of horrific suffering in the spirit world for harming someone,in thought , word, or deed

    March 13, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
    • chicagogam

      or as some see it, billions of years of paradise for causing suffering. quite worth it, don't you think? a very dangerous model...

      March 13, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
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