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. devil dog

    @shone,. Are you really that naive to think that fact finding missions are made up? I mean conspiracy, and big brother is one thing but dont be so stupid as to think or try to make others think all of this is made up. Im going to take a stab in the dark here and guess that you really believe nasa created the moon landing in a studio. Hey guess what! I heard they found wmd's in iraq! Oh ya that was made up too. Semper fi

    March 12, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. devil dog

    @ahmar, not very nice to point fingers. In my country! We have a system of representation. I wonder what you think real revolution even is. Grow up. Millions everyday? So multiply that by 365 days a year. Seriously. This discussion is about the ppl being free from a tyrants rule. Its about money and power,. Its about raising your family in a safe place. Who wouldnt want that? The ppl of libya are correct in protesting the current regime, its just too dam bad they dont have more guns. Semper fi

    March 12, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      The innocent People are the People of the Country!!! Do You think they can protest like They are in Wisconsin??? There the Dictators kill People to get what They want!!! Here they just make up the laws as They go along... But the results are the same!!!

      March 12, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Devil Dog

      Larry, I think that's pretty much been established....Moving on.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Shone

    @devil dog
    I presume that you are just a stubborn US citizen who is watching CNN and believes all of the lies that are put in front of him. If you use your head and put two and two together, you will see that nothing is random. It started with Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya. The whole north of Africa and a vast coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is targeted to be under US military control. No conspiracy there, just a plain old US strategy of killing everyone who stands on their way of world domination and natural resources, and rebuilding contractors. Money makes the world go round! Of course the terrorists will be harshly dealt with, and no mercy for American mercenaries in Libya fighting against that country. I read here comment that are calling for killing leader of sovereign nation just because he doesn`t want to sell his country? Tearing country apart and creating civil war because they don`t want to be American colony? And you are talking about civil rights, modern values, democracy? Just look back at every war in last 60 years, and you will find US interests somewhere there, and as aftermath, US involvement in the future of that country, sucking out money and creating pro US governments. So who are real terrorists , dictators and monsters?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121


      Although I'm not particularly agreeing with some of your other comments on the blog you did raise some good points in this comment that are, for lack of better words, true or do hold some ground....

      (1) I don't think the US wants to colonize the Northern countries of Africa. We have or hands full in or own country with our own expenses. The Sudanese PEOPLE were the ones to choose the fate of their country and I know this because I have family there, not because I watch CNN. Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya are the same. What matters is how the rulers deal with these oppositions in opinion and demands for change.

      (2) I do agree with you about there being US benefits in the world's wars and I kind of have a problem with it. We do need to do something about the US's "big stick complex" where they feel they have to police the world. Although, if countries could learn to regulate themselves without violating any of its own peoples' human rights then the need for outside intervention would not be there.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      DevilDog is a Marine... I am sure he has seen the oppression in the middle east with his own eyes.
      If CNN is lying... Why are other media outlets saying the same thing?
      You support Gadhafi... Yet you fail to see that the US put him into power...
      We do not want to turn Libya into a colony! For what natural resources? Libya only produces 1% of the worlds oil...

      You can keep Libya... I don't want it.

      Americans just don't like governments that kill its own citizens.
      I would rather the US just sit back and watch the middle east destroy itself!

      @DevilDog... Thank you for serving!

      March 12, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      Will You Please Tell Us How CNN Benefits By Lying About What Is Going On There??? I'm Sure The Readers Here Would Like To Hear It From You!!!

      March 12, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      They Listen to Fox News!!! Don't You know They Are The Only News Station That Tells The Truth To Them??? I bet They say that all the Quakes that is happening is done By Man not from the Changes because of what People are doing???

      March 12, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. devil dog

    Hey summar! you know whats interesting? When intelligence rules the day is when the crazies come out to play. I find it highly interesting that you would make a broad statement like the one you just made as well as the guy before you. Makes me wonder where you guys got your ideals from. Makes me wonder indeed. Hmmm perhaps a cord was struck? Please continue with your comments.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      You can't get any worse than the Right Wing Republicans!!! They are in Their own World on another planet...

      March 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. Alvin Matthews

    I have no sympathy whatsoever for 'alleged' heavy-handed treatment of reporters/media crews etc.
    The unfortunate Libyan situation currently developing has proved yet again to be another example of blatant and consistent 'media-hyping' in the guise of 'the news must get through' !
    You, 'the media' seem to believe that you can just enter a foreign country and do what you like, completely disregarding the fact that you are obliged to work within cultural guidelines.
    Again – no sympathy- you deserve everything you get for being in the wrong place at the wrong time !

    March 12, 2011 at 3:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Alright Alvin,
      If this conflict was solely due to the propaganda and 'media hype' that you strongly believe it is, answer me this. Why are thousands of people dying due to ruthless acts of their tyrant leader?
      Looking back on Egypt. Mubarak assumed power as a dictator, and eventually, lost power due to his rather idiotic acts. Gadafi is not only performing similar idiotic acts, but his is virtually sociopathic . For the sole purpose that he is have thousands of people unnecessarily brutally murdered everyday.
      Yes, I agree that the media may be bias at times, for the sole purpose of attempting to get their point across. Although this is true, I refuse to sit here and have you rant and state that "[they] Got what they deserve."
      Again- The media, virtually does not have the power to cause anything, but panic. It does not have the power to topple a government. It is the citizens of Libya that notice what is going on around hem, that are concerned and they (in their own mind) decide to going the civilian uprising.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121


      This is true. I think the news goes into these situations, through, to try to see what's really is going on.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      It is happening all through the Muslin part of the Middle East!!! It just shows like the United States the People are tired of the Rich having everything and Them nothing... The Rich has woken up a Sleeping People with all the stuff They have done lately!!! The People are tired of being taken advantage of all over the World... The People will be the ones to win in the long run!!!

      March 12, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Devil Dog

      @Larry, You need to realistically examine the situation. You also REALLY NEED TO GET YOUR MESSAGE CLEAR. There are several areas in these conflicts that you seem to be overlooking. It is unfortunate that you must be schooled in reality on the ground. Personally its annoying to keep finding you spewing the same garbage as if noone knows what the heck is going on. In case you missed the memo there is a "Civil War" going on in Lybia and many people are trapped that cannot get out. they have families and children. There is no food or medicine and people are dying. That is the reality of war. Has anyone bothered to look at the fact Egypt has been giving access of the suez canal to Iran? Iran is sending Shiploads of weapons, Ammo, and supplies to areas they had no access before. Big Picture, peoples lives, ect. ect.

      March 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bill

    It looks Like the
    Pale horse Is on the move.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Abu-Salma

    Hi Robertson, I saw you many times reports in war torn countries just and only just to depict the situation on the ground favourable to your country and its propaganda news items, CNN does not conform to the rules of reality but sticks to self-set mindset. to me it is worthless to tune to this cable.
    how can you come and blacklist a whole population in Libya only to support the armed insergency sapotaging thier own home.
    For the hell of your reporting, plz stay home.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
    • ahmed

      Libyan people are teaching the world the meaning of being brave. something that some other arab countries need to learn.

      March 12, 2011 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
    • dan

      wow ther is alot of corporate propagandists on here, the cnn crew are extremely brave for reporting what is happening in libya, now i really want to know what gaddafi;s thugs will do to that man? and what about the bbc who were invited then beaten and tortured? well done cnn

      March 12, 2011 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121


      It's funny that you blame only CNN because I' ve been seeing alot of the same reports from Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, and the Sudanese news channels my husband watches.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy


      Thank you!
      The middle east should stand up and resolve issues on their own...

      If the people don't like a dictator they should kick him out...

      March 12, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      Right CNN Dramatize what is happening to make the News better right??? I guess what has happen in Wisconsin really never happen to Right??? Because CNN said it did right???

      March 12, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. cyberc0p

    "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," best one so far

    March 12, 2011 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121


      That is very true, they should be talking about how the Israelis are treating (and have been treating for a long time) the Palestinian people. I'm not anti-Israeli or anti-/pro- anything but there should be more fair reporting.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. devil dog

    @alvin, they call it a report for a reason. I really dont understand this "media bias" thing when ordanance is falling from the sky and blowing stuff to itty bitty pieces. I have to assume the media bias thing is the crazy way of saying "they made it all up"! Its not real...its the media. Hu?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. devil dog

    Ha! Theres the media bias thing again. If all these wonderfully ignorant ppl hate cnn so much why do they insist on wasting their time blogging about it? What the heck happened to debating issues, and talking about what should be done? Its very childish. Funny actually. Again, Kiddie table.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. Brian


    March 12, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. devil dog

    Silence is golden. Semper fi

    March 12, 2011 at 4:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. devil dog

    Lol hey hotdog! Are you as much of a weiner as you purport to be or is that a typo? Talk about some suckage lol.

    March 12, 2011 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. Todd Beam

    What did you do? Are you kidding me this writer says what did we do! Your in their country ding dong you couldn't pick a worse time to visit I'm amazed your still alive! That isn't the United States they have different rules & considering what is happening over there if your that stupid to be there in first place you should expect anything. Why can't you report the news here at home? Why you have to be in center of crisis to report the news? Don't expect us to feel bad when you place yourself in arms way & something happens. We're not risking our lives because of your stupidity!

    March 12, 2011 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
    • DeadTrinity

      I don't normally comment on articles or peoples comments but yours made me laugh for your lack of understanding of what exactly they're doing. If you don't have reporters on the ground in these harsh and dangerous conditions how the hell do you expect to get the news of what's going on? You think gahdaffi is going to send us updates on his face book?... Come on now think... Also I'd like to mention that he said that gahdaffi's son told the UN that they could go where they want, talk to whom they want, and you know, do want they went there for... To report what's going on. They know its dangerous, but someone has to do it, and they choose to do it. They do it for us, so we know what's going on past our sheltered and self-absorbed lives. Also so you can comment on their article about how stupid they are. You should be grateful that they're risking their lives to give you something to do. Finally, on a side note, I think it's terrible what gahdaffi is doing and I hope and believe that he will get what's coming to him. I just don't think we should get involved military wise. -Peace out sucka fish!

      March 12, 2011 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kaos

    I got to say , this is just more bull ,

    A. You have know idea what Ghadaffi is fighting.
    B. Osama Bn Laden was a "freedom fighter" as well "
    C. Our western culture has no understanding of the middle east, never will.
    D. You reporting the obvious, and it is boring.
    E. If Ghadaffi falls, there will be no stopping Al Qaeda and the Taliban from taking over the entire region.
    F. There was a reason why Suddam Hussein was import, he didnt take crap fro the radicals, with him gone, it is open season for al qa

    March 12, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Thia

      There is nothing in the middle east to understand! and geese all the culture stuff you all go on about. people are people, the people are just now realizing they can speak up and speak out...Oh SO RELIGIOUS AND GODLY?? murders, abusers, liars and stealers,,need I saw no more, JAMERICAN IN EGYPT..

      March 12, 2011 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Thia

      >>>>>>There is nothing in the middle east to understand! and geese all the culture stuff you all go on about. people are people, the people are just now realizing they can speak up and speak out...Oh SO RELIGIOUS AND GODLY?? murders, abusers, liars and stealers,,need I saw no more, JAMERICAN IN EGYPT..}}}

      March 12, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
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