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

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Filed under: Libya • World
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. Jazz7

    how do u think his WIFE feels right now , u REAL PIECE of SH****T , SHI=UT UP , YES I AM MAD AS HE11 AT U HOW COULD YOU BE SO CRUEL , GADHAFI LOVER

    March 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar

    *grabs Pablo Francisco's neck* "Tshhh!"

    March 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      So it is true , how dare u , you just lost a friend u piece of crap

      March 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. AADinLV

    WOW, this bickering is a tragedy. Mo was a hero for a humane cause, through and through. To bad that some people here never had a chance to know him like some of us did. Shame on you for being so cruel and your lack of tact, this article is discussing a truly wonderful person who we called "Mo." If you could have just heard his wonderful laugh, it makes me cry just to hear it on his video broadcasts. Mo deserves nothing but tributes of positive contribution here, please.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Yes am it seems I'm the only one defending his honor , do sorry for your loss and if you know his wife pls tell her I am sorry very sorry as well , my thoughts are with her and that beautiful baby

      March 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pablo Francisco

    @Cesar: Sorry buddy your little Jedi tricks don't work on me.
    @Mary: He's really a communist. Not kidding about that. Sorry, but the internet is a haven for conspiracy theorists and loons. Actually I'm convinced this planet is a sanitarium for God's unwanted souls, but I digress.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Thanks again Pablo , anytime u want beer buddy just let me know

      March 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pablo Francisco

    Didn't know "mo" personally, but if he rolls with jeezy or young hovah... Well I'm not going to go there. Another martyr for the books.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pablo Francisco

    Great now I'm being trolled... Goodnight.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Pablo Francisco

    Don't really drink much Mary. Thanks though.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Just thought all guy's liked beer, I can barley finish a glass of anything so I guess it will have to be Ice tea for me and u , were do you live

      March 20, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ThomasD

    Beers nasty. Sip of JD is nice now n then. Maybe crown royal.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      What's Crown Royal like ?

      March 21, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. Pablo Francisco

    I don't do tea either. You sure you're not a teabagger? Lol jk. I like to drink at a club, bar or with friends, but I'm not an every weekend warrior. Partied for a bit then decided to prioritize so I could party before I become an old fart. I'm off to bed though. Goodnight Mary and any nice trolls here.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      I hope me being 46 doesnt make me one , but in any case I gotta go to , go night old man

      March 21, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. ThomasD

    Its just a good smooth whiskey. Makes a good mix. Im not much of a drinker either though. Just now n then.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Good to hear I'm not the only one who doesnt drink , I dont think i ever was but I put some wine in my speggettti Sauce that's about it for me.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. ThomasD

    Oh cooking with wine is wonderful. Most of the alcohol cooks off anyway. I hope my being 46 doesnt make me one either.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      I find myself fighting it now more and more I'm laughing right now cause it sounds so funny but I like myself much more now than I did back in my 20's ,

      March 21, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      ok, night Thomas D , sweet dreams dont let the bed bugs bit

      March 21, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. ThomasD

    Oh Lord, I wouldnt go back to being in my 20s for anything. Dumb as a mud fence, I was.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Sorry thought u went to bed , I am so much smarter than i was then , like a light came on, what do you do for a living

      March 21, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. Cesar

    I'm Cesar from South Texas. I'm am deeply sorry that Mohammad Nabbus was killed. This is my first blog within the last 8 hours or so. So many elements of grief; His wife, baby one month from birth, Libyan people, Americans that shared his ideology, and of course CNN, who respected him and like the rest will miss him. Truly sad. I did not post the ugly stuff, whatever it was, but thank CNN it was removed.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Come on Phunnie boy,post that bla-bla-bla under your own name,will you? I may not be a rocket scientist but the one thing I do know is never to put anything past the cursed C.I.A. You people all need to wise up!!!

      March 21, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. ThomasD

    Sleep good, fair lady.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Good night my gentleman

      March 21, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. ThomasD

    @cesar. Dont worry. We know the difference between you and fakecesar. Its obvious. And Jazz, Im just slow because Im on my cell. I do home renovations.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      ok, finally goodnight and do do billing BORING , night muscles

      March 21, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
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