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. Teddy Mack

    Nic should not have been there in the first place, A little bit of discretion is called for at times.

    Aside from that, CNN has certainly lost its professionalism.

    I learned nothing from the story – Government goons intimating reporters in Libya – so what's new?

    March 11, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jazz

    I would be surprised if Gadhafi fell. Certianly the UN and America will not be intervening at all , shame on them

    March 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • detroitjames

      maybe the incessant American flag burning and yelling of "infidel" wasn't such a good idea....

      March 11, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz

      Maybe it was the Gadhafi loving Devils that were saying that

      March 12, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. Name*ali

    That is what. Libya been going.through in the past 42 years. This is the reason why so many your kids are going to the front lines and giving up their lives. The freedom to be able to say or do what they want without fear. Please stop interviewimg kadaf8 and his son and focus on zawia. God bless.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • detroitjames

      this is what the Arabian world has been doing since it was called Mesopotamia.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Obama is a coward

    I cannot fathom the cowardice and spinelessness of President Obama. This guy seems unable to make a decision if his life depended on it. He can't get out of Aghanistan – a futile war over a sandpit and a bunch of thugs – and he is too afraid and indecisive to come to the aid of the Libyan people that are begging for the U.S. to get involved. Even GW was better than this guy. GW arguable was an idiot making all the wrong decisions but Obama is incapable of making any decision. Can't anyone in the U.S. lead?

    March 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • detroitjames

      ttwo years out of 10 and you blame Obama for Afghanistan? You would be the first to complain if he were involved... for being TOO involved....

      March 11, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      The bravest thing Barack Obama can do is to both wisely and rightly keep this country out of Libya altogether,but will he do it? We have absolutely no right to be there!!!

      March 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • db

      Obama is more interested in being on Oprah or photo ops then doing the job he was elected to do. He has hidden from making any real decisions, hidden his past, and has hidden agendas. He speaks well and can encite a group, he was viewed as the new deal by so many but has failed to deliver. He is a complete failure costing America dearly.

      March 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. detroitjames

    "I felt like I was boarding a plane!"

    March 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |


    March 11, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Terry

    Yes but imagine how you'd feel if they politely said hello and let you go on your way.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kenny

    I know the news must be factually reported and that is the job you have chosen to do but you must understand that it is or was YOUR CHOICE. No one is forcing you to risk your life in places like Libya. While I would hate to see you harmed in any way, I can have no sympathy for you for knowingly placing yourself in the position that could cause you to die. I hope you do not die while getting your story but I can feel no sorrow for you if you do because as I have said before, IT WAS YOUR CHOICE TO GO THERE.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      I must have missed the portion of the article where anyone asked for your sympathy. Could you pull it out for me?

      March 12, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  9. Snake Fist

    Infowars com

    March 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Che-3

    It serves them right. They DON'T belong there in Libya. Let the Libyans do their own thing and over throw their Gov’t. and STOP this Rebel propaganda. We are ALWAYS sticking our noses where it doesn't F***********G belongs. We did the SAME with Saddam Hussein and now look at the mess and deep seated pains US have brought over to this World. There was a time when a US President, a cowboy republican; aka Reagan used to call Gadhafi as quote: "Strong Man Gadhafi."
    We didn’t see USA providing aid or propaganda to Black African Freedom Fighters in Africa to overthrow ANY RACIST White, EVIL minority rule in ANY part in Africa.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |

      Good posting,Che-3. Thank you.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      You appear to have confused "journalist" with "soldier". One carries a microphone and represents a news agency, the other carries a gun and represents a country.

      A US journalist being in Libya has bugger all to do with military intervention, and it's stupid to suggest that journalists should not investigate what appears to be a dictator crushing his population with weapons he's been amassing through fleecing the country. Stick your own head in the sand if you want, but the rest of us want information.

      March 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz

      @ RuffNutt , I will brake your code and then you will be mine

      March 12, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Che-3

      Grace you sound like you're suffering from some maggot itchy YEAST infestations. You register 2 on IQ scale which equals the shoe size of a southern trailer mouse. You really lack BASIC intellectual thinking. Empty cavity, even my 2-yr. old registered 80 on IQ scale by Kaplan evaluation.
      You really need to have your stupid deficient head examined.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      Che, I'm afraid I don't have any experience with yeast infections, but I suspect that if you're getting maggots in that area you really should go see a doctor.

      Preferably a different doctor than the one you should see about the fact you're hallucinating shoe-wearing mice.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. John

    So, they gave you a ride to your hotel, hotshot. Be honest, you went looking for trouble and they knew it.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg Clapton

      Amen! These reporters think they have diplomatic immunity...they do not! They are invaders trampling a countries rights and doing as they please...pistol whip the clowns! Anderson Cooper is another clown out for glory, not to report, but to "create" a story... reporters need to be targets! Good ridence!

      March 12, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jim in Canada

    Great job Nick. I've always like your reporting. Now you likely managed to get this poor guy – and maybe his family killed. We know it's bad in Libya. Why does CNN always try to endanger innocent people just to get the story. Just like Hurricane coverage. You don't need to stand out on the beach in 100 mph winds. We know its bad. Do you make $500K per year? Are you proud you helped kill a poor taxi driver who makes $50 a month? Shame shame shame. It's not worth it.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      So, Canada, what is your brilliant suggestion for getting around in Libya other than via hired car? Do you have an alternate, or is your alternate "don't do it at all, even if that means that no impartial witness reports actual conditions on the ground"?

      It's horrible, what's likely happened to the cab driver. It's pretty clear the CNN crew were panicked about him as well, both trying to protect him and now having no idea of his fate. At what point did you decide that they're probably not feeling badly enough, and so you really should rock on up and rub it in?

      March 12, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      Gee, Jim, thanks for making me be ashamed to be Canadian.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. deepwater805

    After spending years working in both the mid-east, and north Africa, I got pretty adept at being able to tell when an arab was lying to me. His mouth was moving...

    March 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    This crybaby Robertson makes me sick. If he doesn't like the way he was treated,so what? It was well warranted. After all,he was part of the right-wing,Qadaffi-bashing,pro-Western news media who get what they ask for!!!

    March 11, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BLING


    March 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Please consider remedial English if you're going to post on the Internet. Your comment is incomprehensible.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Thomas


      March 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
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