March 20th, 2011
08:09 PM ET

'Voice of Free Libya' silenced by sniper's bullet

"A true hero, Mohammed Nabbous of Sawt Libia al-Hurra, the Voice of Free Libya, was killed in fighting in Benghazi today."

It was a stark, raw tweet from Ben Wedeman with a big impact on our newsroom Saturday morning.

One of our first and most-trusted sources of information on the conflict in Libya had become a victim of the very civil war he in some ways had helped to spark.

In the first few days of the conflict back in February, "Mo" as we called him had become an inspiration, friend and "go-to" source as well as a regular witness on CNN's shows.

Of course, you wouldn't know that from watching.

We blurred his face and gave him code-names like "Benghazi Protester" in order to protect him and his young family.

It was a struggle to keep him from blurting out his name and even phone number on air, sometimes, as Mohammed said that he wanted freedom for Libya, or to be martyred trying to achieve it.

"I am not afraid to die, I am afraid to lose the battle," the young, western-educated software engineer would tell us when we asked him to keep his identity secret.

Libya before the fighting started was one of those very few "black holes" on the world's map for us: like North Korea or Syria, it was a country where the regimes iron grip on information was so strong and the secret police so brutal and pervasive that the risk of contacting people was simply not justified for putting peoples lives at risk by staying in regular communication.

When that all began to crumble beginning on February 17th and Libyans in the country's east began to rise up, we had to develop webs of witnesses from scrap.

But one quickly became our most savvy source: a 27-year-old technology expert and former internet provider in Benghazi.

Mohammed and other supporters had set up a kind of protest command center in the city's courthouse after ejecting Ghadhafi's forces in the first days of fighting.

That's where we first contacted him on February 18th - a guy who looked more Silicon Valley in a hooded sweatshirt and big headphones than a partisan in a Libyan war zone.

Amazingly, Mohammed had beaten the regimes firewalls and jerry-rigged a live signal from the building.

The camera showed the few hundred protesters huddled outside against the walls due to the cold and whipping winds - worried that Gadhafi's forces could swoop in at any moment.

It was our first view of the protests there, and we were worried that all this would be traced back and used to target the band of students and young people defying the Gadhafi regime.

At first Mo just wanted to get that picture to us, as he felt that it provided a thin blanket of security. He thought Ghadhafi might hold back if he knew that ordering the army or his feared African mercenaries to slaughter the protesters would be seen on live television around the globe.

Mohammed pushed the technical know-how limits of our engineers and desk editors such as Yousuf Basil, Jack Maddox, Ben Brumfield and myself as he came up with elaborate ways to get more and more cameras going around the courthouse.

But it wasn't until we started interviewing him on air that we realized how special he was.

Mohammed poignantly told us about how the army had shot into the crowds, then using armored vehicles to roll over protesters after they had run out of ammunition, and how the demonstrators would not give up.

After the first two days he told us with his live stream and webcasts he had become some sort of leader.

"People have been calling my mobile non-stop. I woke up today with 125 missed calls. People have been calling and checking on me to see if I am safe. One person called from Serbia just to say they are thinking of me and my struggle."

Chillingly, the newly married man with his first baby just a month from being born told us he believed the government knew who he was and there would be a price to be paid for his boldness.

"I would love to wake up tomorrow and people not be dead. But I know 200 people will be dead," he told one of our desk editors, Mitra Mobasherat. "Libyans lives to Gaddafi are very cheap."

Our correspondents in the field eventually caught up with Mohammed as CNN teams like Ben Wedeman and Mary Rogers led the push to get into the rebel territory, with Arwa Damon featuring him in one gripping package.

Later, as the rebel lines advanced toward Tripoli, we were in contact with him less often, but he expanded his presence and contact with the rest of the world.

Along with his supporters he developed social media sites like Feb17.info, set up an independent internet TV signal "Libya al-Hurrah" and conducted interviews with dozens of broadcasters.

And as the conflict surged back toward Benghazi in recent days he began to go out into the field to interview people about the dangers and loss they were suffering from the ongoing struggle.

That's what he was doing Friday when he was fatally shot.

Reports are still sketchy, but his wife and supporters say he was killed by a headshot from a sniper while going out to videotape rocket attacks on one neighborhood where he heard several children had been killed.

He phoned in one last report that morning to al-Hurrah, with the sounds of heavy machine gun fire rattling and artillery exploding around him.

Then, nothing else until Ben's tweet, and the following announcement he had been killed after the fighting.

On Feb17.info was one final favorite quote of Mohammed Nabbous: "A Candle loses nothing by lighting another Candle."

Post by:
Filed under: Libya • World
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. ThomasD

    And this kind of dictatorial slaughter of innocents is why we are there. Our world has outgrown its tolerence of such reckless hatred of freedom of fanatic leadership. There is no place left for those like Col. Ghadafi. Let freedom ring.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • myklds

      U.N. must stand firm to end these merciless killings. Ghadafi's Greedy Grip of power is pulling the entire nation down the drain. He's becoming suicidal, willing and ready to drag the entire Libya to hell.

      He must be stop ASAP and at all cost.

      "WICKED must be SLAYED to bring forth RIGHTEOUS purposes. It' better that ONE MAN should PERISH than a NATION to dwindle and perish.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Timoney

    The guy's a hero, nothing less. God take care of his family.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Could it be because he's said what you wanted the Libyans to hear that you made that decision? All this Qadaffi bashing does get old and shows the lack of intelligence of the American public which goes to show just how successful the right-wing media has been in brainwashing the average American. Enough already!!!

      March 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Akram from libya

    Cesar you should use your mind before starting this nonsense , what CIA are you talking about you mean the 5 million Libyan people are now CIA agents just because they want freedom . am a young doctor from Libya and all I want to see is a Free Libya , free from Ghaddafi . believe me all libyans will follow in the footsteps of Mohammed May he Rest In Peace and may his unborn child be born in a Free Libya a country that his/her father paid the ultimate price to help show the world what really is going on there .

    March 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Akram , dont this to this derainged Cesar and yes there are several Cesar's , but this one is out in space. He probably would leave a video of himself saying that some one assasinated him , some Right wing thud. I wont speak for all Americans but I love what's going on in the middle eastern countries. FREEDOM FOR ALL IN THE WORLD , dont care if it means other countries are doing it for their own self motives at least everyone will be free , shut up Physco Cesar

      March 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jazz7

    @ Cesar of 8:32 , SHUT THE F UP U BAS*** TD. I remember this guy's interview now and u dont like this country so much I will be more than happy to buy u a one way ticket to GADHAFI'S compound, this man had a wife who is expecting their FIRST child , u mother fkker. I dont care how bad I sound right now, u make me sick , GET THE F***K OUT OF MY COUNTRY U PIECE OF CRA** P

    March 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Gee whiz Jazz,you're obviously a fan of both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann but must you use their choice of words here??? This Tea Party lingo,like I said before,has no place here!!! Please!!!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jazz7

    Matter of fact if you dont stop your rants I will have you kicked off this site FOREVER , u piece of SH*** T

    March 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Satan

    Cesar loves innocent people getting killed. Is anybody truly surprised by this? Also his argument makes perfect sense, it was the CIA that started the peaceful protests in the first place, not the citizens of Libya.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ThomasD

    Satan could you share the info that lead you to believe that? Just curious, Id like to see proof.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jazz7

    I dont care who started it , that child will be born FREE to honor his fathers sacrific , how would u feel if it was u who died and your child grew up with out u , think if you were there NOT here in your cozy house

    March 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      How do you think the Libyan families feel tonight after having those cursed Tomahawk missiles fired on them,killing many,Jazz7??? Have you ever seen the carnage caused by those monstrosities? I assure you right now that there's neither glory nor honor in this!!!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Dont lump me in with those women I am not a right winger i am for all to be FREE , something you all take for granted all to often. WALK IN SOMEONE ELSES SHOES FIRST BEFORE U SPEAK . see your in your nice cozy house in front of your computer , not in a war zone living under a ruthless DICTATOR for 40 + yrs , youll never understand

      March 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jazz7

    Have i been booted trying this right now

    March 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jazz7

    ok, so your saying that the Collistion forces are trying to kill the ppl and not Gadhafi , u idiot

    March 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jazz7

    Guess Cesar doesnt have a come back , u right winger

    March 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jazz7

    U need to start posting with your OWN name cause your no HISPANIC OR JEWISH cesar , u stuppid FKK

    March 20, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jazz7

    Maybe the FAKE RIGHT WINGER CESAR should barrow the hispanic and jewish cesar's PAIR , or see if he can grow his own PAIR , NOT

    March 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jazz7

    What kind of SACRAFICES HAVE U MADE IN YOUR LIFE , good for nothing , go to HE11

    March 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pablo Francisco

    Mary the hispanic Cesar is a communist. Sorry. It's true. He also has a show on animal planet called The Dog Whisperer. He does things with the dogs. Horrible things. He wants to do those horrible things to you and treat you like his dog. I don't know you but I care about you.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Blogging is not for the fant , I dont know who u are but if it is true , sad for him or anyone , cause I can be a true friend and I'm never gonna be anyone's DOG , trust me , thanks again

      March 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
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