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."

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

    Ok Thomas, thx for the come back. Gd nt to you and Jazz7.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      Night Cesar

      March 21, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar

    Nite Jazz7.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Cesar

    Good night Akram from Libya, I hope the fighting stops soon so that you and the rest of the Libyans can begin to pick up the pieces and try to begin a better life. (I did not post the bad stuff, another Cesar did)

    March 21, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Sorry Akram from Libya,I never posted the above. Somebody's trying to make a jerk out of me!

      March 21, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  4. ***dude***

    Nite johnboy

    March 21, 2011 at 3:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. Shane

    America virtually begged China to save them from the financial crisis, now wasting money on useless war... USA should be held responsible to make earth a living hell.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      Good posting,Shane. Thank you.

      March 21, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. ed Bailey

    It is a living hell, right here in UTAH we have our own fascist home grown KHADAFY(sic) in the form of the Mormon church and they have their sights on the white house! WAKE UP AMERICA, or live in eternal crap!!!!I feel just as strongly as this GREaT MAN DiD CONCERNING sick rulers. Good luck folks.rip MO.

    March 21, 2011 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. amina

    God bless him and his family

    March 21, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. JT

    I'm truely embarassed for the people who feel the need to hijack a story like this for whatever reasons. Just a thought – get their phone number or find a chat room, keep comments on topic.

    I'm sorry to hear about "Mo". I cannot imagine what's going on over there right now. I just hope that it ends quickly and with as little loss of innocent life as possible. I fear that we (USA) are escalating the situation. Hopefully that means it will bring about the end quicker, and not that it means we will get dragged into a problem that's not ours to fight.

    March 21, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Justicar

    Kadhafi MUST GO!!!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. Justicar

    Kadhafi = The Next Terror

    Loyal to Kadhafi = be his SERVANTSSSSSSSSSSs

    Dictator Kadhafi MUST GO DOWN

    March 21, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Justicar

    Bring Kadhafi to JUSTICE!!! Imprison him in the highest sky-crapper for live!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar

      That's exactly what needs to happen to all the right-wing thugs in Washington plus all their European henchmen!!! Please Justicar,spare me the phoney outrage against Mohammar Qadaffy!

      March 21, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. RUFFNUTT

    i wonder if the sniper was took a sack lunch with him or ate before he camped out?

    also another risk of being a sniper is getting carpel tunnel syndrome..

    hopefully he did his streches and stuff before gettting into position..

    March 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Monica

    MO as some call him is an inspiration to the world. His death is heartbreaking and his spirit will live on with the people who knew him and those that watched him on CNN. Courageous even in death....he will have played a BIG part in the freedom his unborn child will see. REST IN PEACE brother!

    March 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy

    Oh, this is sad, so very sad! My condolences to his wife and unborn child, who will grow up knowing his/her father was a true inspiration and hero of the resistance movement in Libya.

    May his dreams of a free Libya come true, and may he not have died in vain.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. R. Zip Raasch

    It is a known FACT Muamar Gaddafi ordered the Murder of 259 Human Beings on Pan Am Flight 103, and 11 People in Lockerbie, Scotland.

    That alone is reason enough to EXECUTE Gaddafi (he does not deserve the term Assassinate, as he was never a valid politician) as soon as possible by any means, before he continues to take the Lives of so many People.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
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