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)

    "You should go to Palestine and film what the Israelis are doing"

    Your 'jerk' actually made a VALID point. Are the Libyans bulldozing houses and shooting children yet?

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

      Well said.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Pablo

    u dont c me crying on the intrenet when i have a bad day at work,how is this news?

    March 12, 2011 at 4:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz

      like your name and don't cry just read Gods love letter to you , google it

      March 12, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Donald

      Hmm... I got spit on on American soil for wearing an Army uniform in the late 90's. Bad days. No CNN there to report it. Get over urself Nic. Thanks for the one-sided report.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. Toni

    AMEN Pablo! BOOHOO for the this reporter, we all have crappy days on the job, deal with it. I lost 75 cents in a soda machine at work today during my lunchbreak, why isn't this CNN headlines?

    March 12, 2011 at 4:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Disgustedinatl


      You are right. CNN's coverage of your nearly $1 loss would be much more interesting than its coverage of one it's reporters in Libya (which is in crisis, has been on the front page of every paper for weeks and previously closed to reporters). Your propensity for egocentrism is astounding, if not concerning.

      March 12, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. bamafan

    I have read all these comments.My husband was in Tripoli when all of this started. He has worked in Ras Lanuf for two years. All I can say is I just wanted him home. The people when this all started had no go guns, the had sticks and stones.What they acquired was from forces that understood how right the ppl were. They want to be free from The Regime. It is very real so all you folks, who think this is a joke, political lies, think again. These are real ppl. who want freedom from a trirate,and his crazy family. Please understand this isn't some U.S. propaganda, to get oil we only get two percent from this country. This man is a lunatic. He needs to go. Have you never watch one of his speeches? He would rather kill his own ppl , than give up his place of honor. I guess you have to understand that people matter. Its all about freedom. If not for the French we would have a Queen. Remember your own American History!

    March 12, 2011 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
    • acutemind

      Oh cry me a river bamafan. I'm currently a bamafan as well but, how would you feel if an outside party that shared the same ideology as the South during the Civil War joined forces with the confederacy and started attacking Union soldiers? It's their war and they are fighting against each other. Don't tell me the opposition has no weapons. I've seen the video of them firing them. They took over towns. Yes we are rooting for them, but that is no reason for us to interfere and kill people on the side we don't like. We are not obligated to "even the playing field" in other people's war or else we would have bombed into submission Israel long time ago until their capabilities were on par with the Palestinians'.
      What should be done is to made Ghadafi reign untenable, but the moment you kill someone who is one side of two opposing forces you are asking for longlasting trouble. This is not a case of armed marauders going in and killing unarmed innocent civilians. Just because you see something in a store that you like doesn't mean you can just walk in and take it.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Silas Scarborough

    They go into Libya after CNN's great display of fomenting revolution in the country and expect to be treated to cake and party favors?

    March 12, 2011 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    I'm glad that the reporters escaped unscathed – but it makes it something of a nonevent. Threats and nonsensical orders are typical of war.

    What I really want CNN to track, to track the regime's brutality, is the casualty figure. I've been hearing the same "thousands" of casualties from the days when the press had barely heard of the Khamis Brigade except in Wikileaks cables. Surely there have got to be tens of thousands of casualties by now, with all those cities attacked? Somebody – somebody here safe in the CNN home office – count them up. Get your act together, and get the word out.

    March 12, 2011 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. bamafan

    Do you really care about the ppl be slaughtered? THey have nothing. only what they can gleen from the regime. These are women who have no rights, children who have no say. Wanting a better life. Just to go to school , work , live, without someome telling them it time to pray, time to eat time work. Whar difference does it make to you when you have these freedoms.

    March 12, 2011 at 5:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Kaos

      Did you car about the Indians We americans slaughtered and drove into reservations ? There is no difference between the two, Your hypocritical approach about other countries is foolish and reckless when in our own back yard atrocities where being executed.

      Wake up already and start making AMERICA better, not Libya. America is so far behind in the world simply because we help everyone else but our people, and it's is disgusting.

      March 12, 2011 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
    • CrystalAng3121


      Very true. We do need to take care of or own problems. Even my husband, when watching what's going on, says that the people need help defending themselves but that other countries need to not get involved and let the people deal with their own countries issues.

      When someone had been subjected to abuse, violence, and oppression all of their lives and then are allowed freedom from these domestic and political terrorisms it is quite liberating. Support groups are needed though to help reintegration into society and overcoming trauma.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jackie

    I read your story with great interest, all the while wondering if you will be used as a shield when the no fly zone is approved. You should all leave before it is too late. Don't put anything past a Mad Man and his family.

    March 12, 2011 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. alex

    how is this all really relevant..when we, US, Our President, should stand up in the name of democracy that we soo preach all over the media, stay numb, get their and get rid of gaddafi life for once..if we can go into a war for oil, the we for sure can do it to save life.

    March 12, 2011 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. barfman

    CNN is not credible news. This article may be true but who knows? Since 2008 CNN has been reporting obamaism, not the news. The American people are sick and tired of "Obama in your face" news; consequently nobody cares if CNN got screwed in Libya. If CNN did get screwed, then what goes around comes around. What will CNN report in 2012 after the American people vote out of office obamaism?

    March 12, 2011 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      I would rather listen to Obama than Bush!
      At least Obama is educated and can form coherent conversations...

      March 12, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • norcalmojo

      @ Andy

      The problem is Obama's fan's are the only people listen to him. Everyone else just shrugs him off.

      Simple or not, hated or not, Bush had Gadhafi's under control.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. William Wortee Karpeh

    Good to have Nic and his camera man back, but I fear the worst for the poor Libyan taxi driver........awe!

    March 12, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. MarSchMellow

    The media seems to set the tone for the politicians – although that could also be a "chicken or egg" game. Sometime one has the impression that the CNN guys are "embedded" with the self-proclaimed Libyan "freedom fighters". While in confinement, they will surely be able to convince their interrogators of their noble cause; thus getting them to switch sides and join the rebelion.

    Interestingly, the pictures CNN shows are of demonstators sitting on tanks and flaks, carrying MGs and RPGs with lots of smoke in the background – that's a must (!) – by contrast, the comments talk about "peaceful demonstrators for democracy" that the government has no right to stand up against. I'm not sure if I should believe my eyes or my ears ? In any case, anyone with an open mind will see that CNN and other mainstream media is extremely hypocritical in this case.

    Oh, how I pray to God that Gadhafi prevails and rebuffs this aggressive attack of western media/politics.

    March 12, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. ydkj

    the most important and dangerous job is a reporter's job in conflict zone. God knows what evil ppl are capable of doing if they know for granted no one will know whats going to happen. the MOST dangerous job. Id rather work as a soldier of a loosing army on the front lines. no risk calculation whatsoever. either overpaid to do it, too dumb, or too chivalrious.

    March 12, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ken

    Wait a second.....these reports are selfserving nic. Do you expect people to really believe this BS.
    I do underand that numbers of people are against Mr. Gaddafi, and it's fine for all of you out there to express such opinions, but please have some respect, dont make up stupid lies and ficticious stories to prove your point.

    The time has gone when you can simply classify people into Gaddafi and his bad guys against the freedom fighters......we all know that the so called rebels are terrorists....if you dont want to see that now, you will experience it first hand in the fusture.

    BTW, glad that you're still alive and can write reports nic..........wonder how would it be if you were on the otherside and in the hands of Alqaida ppl in Bengazi.

    March 12, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. Leon Jaeger


    March 12, 2011 at 6:01 am | Report abuse |
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