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. lesafran56

    it's time to the world and the usa to show how mean they are when they ask Ghadafy and his associates to leave the country. If nothing is done right away, the Tripoli murderers are going to carry a genocide in the eastern part of Lybia.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. STW

    Yep, for these 'reporters', it's all about 'them' – me me, me... Maybe next time they'll stay out of the war zone!

    March 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mikep

    Can we go help now that our own people are being brutalized in libya?

    March 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DKF

    You kidnapped the Wrong Robertson Gadhafi. You were supposed to grab Televangelist Pat Robertson...SMH Epic Gadhafi Fail

    March 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FreeLibya

    Thank you for being there, and reporting to the word the lies which this Gaddafi propagates.
    I hope you are now safe, and I prey for that taxi driver. (I believe that by now he is dead & his family is dead) Thats what Gaddafi does to every one who does anything, other then prey to him

    March 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FreeLibya

    Free Libya: The media must report what really! goes on there!

    March 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      Coward! It's your country you go there and over throw your Gov't. than being some Micky Mouse hiding in US.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      @Che-3 another redneck in the planet, if pappi bush just kept the chair in white house he would of become same as Gaddafi you were born free that's why you keep on saying that.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. paul

    and the free world stood by and watched as mr kaddaffi slaughtered those innocent people, great president you have,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. larry s.

    at least they didn't get any real reporters only CNN

    March 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. pete sanchez

    Some of the CNN crews need their salad tossed now and then.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      You Bet!
      It VERY EVIL for Anderson Cooper to advocate the assassination of Moammar Gadhafi on his show last week. Can any member of Gadhafi's family advocate for his assassination in retaliation? He forgets most people belief in "MOSES LAW" aka an "EYE for an EYE".

      March 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chaos now

    Liar liar pants on fire. I wish they had made him drink a pint of oil as that is what his overlords are in there for. CNN – The Best Propaganda For The Sheeple.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dj

    This is the worst written article/story by someone working for CNN I've ever read. Sounds like you're trying to make a Matt Damon action thriller. Slow down and tell a story.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PitchBlack

    3/2 that cabbie is dead :(. Poor guy.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. cabinguy

    Without the reporters in Lybia who are risking their lives to bring us news, we would be in the dark. There would be no article here for any of us to comment on. So what's the complaint again?

    March 11, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Lybia? Can some of you learn how to spell it correctly?

      March 11, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brian

    Mr, President,
    Has there not been enough lessons in recent history to help you make a valid decision here ? I don't claim to have the the right answers , but surely not doing anything is not appropriate, We are depending on your intellegence and reputation for making the correct choices to at least address this matter, Good thoughts and blessings to you and those faced with this difficult matter.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • detroitjames

      Hey... email the Presidential Daily Brief will you please? Apparently you have a copy...

      March 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Name*ali

    ONick I watched you every night on 360. I am totally surprised khadafi son has not killed you. Every night you spoke the truth about the the dictator of Libya,, the king of kings is used to killing anyone that might think of bad mouthin Jim. I love what you guys do over there, but I fear for you. Please continue. God bless.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
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