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. Pablo Francisco

    Maybe earth is a living hell because this is hell. Ever stop to think about that? Food that tastes good is always bad for you. Substances that make you feel good are always bad for you. Any love you might find with comes with emotional baggage. Violence, children being hurt on a daily basis, false prophets all around us, corruption. I could go on but I don't need to. At the very least this is purgatory

    March 21, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy

    Words/Phrases that I'm tired of reading in the blogs:

    Right-wing thugs in Washington/DC
    Tea Party Lingo
    Right-wing media
    Left-wing media
    Baaaa baaaa
    Obambam (et al)
    Fake Cesar(s)
    Fake RUFFNUTT(s)
    Fake *Anyone*

    Not that anyone cares, but I feel better having vented. Have a nice day.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |

      you forgot 'palin lover' and the stupid old 'isreal is becomeing a nation'

      March 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cesar r

    Just another reason to love banasy!

    March 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. FrontierJustice?

    one has to be walking without a head on their shoulder to believe these so-called-international troops are killing and destroying libyans and libya for freedom. These countries first of all got their citizens out before they started throwing bombs in the hundreds. If they cared about the commoners lives, why didn't they airlift them to avoid killing innocent people in libya? UN, Arab League, AU, EU, none of them cares about human rights. Give them more money and they'll sign papers of allowance for u to kill africans and other people in the middle east. Justice sure isn't for all! It's a huge shame oil and money can be put before lives! Cnn, i know when my posts are denied for standing up for all human rights. If i am detained by any secret agency, or killed because i disagree with these strategic wars, it's not because i am a threat to anyone. Just saying it because i do my research carefully and i know the truth even if i cant change the facts! Hope Mo' child grows up well and old. We come and go, rip mo.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FrontierJustice?

    invasion of libya is just a distraction from what going in the mideast, motive to control oil, bribe and plant allies like the ones being rejected now, and not because kadhafi is wicked. If i am wrong, and this invasion is for freedom in libya; why are these same people bombarding saudi arabian king and other leaders who are currently killing their own people for protesting for freedom? This is wrong! Invade those killing their own countrymen? Freedom, after all is not a bill for the africans to pay with their blood and rich resources. Please end the killing now, president obama (son of black african-kenyan man)!!! My letter in on the way to your desk for the souls of the innocent children you're helping hurt more.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FrontierJustice?

    bill clinton killed black people in sudan after he got caught cheating on hilary to take attention off his bad behavior. He said osama bin laden was over there making wmd. It turned a fake and false. To not get shamed by sudan he turned page to kosovo and lied about genocide taking place their. He bombarded innocent ppl there to cover-up and brush off his second wrong. What came of it? Nothing as usual. Iraq was invaded on so many lies and nothing came of it. No libya, when the democracy we been planting turned out brutal dictatorship after many years of bribe and control policies. What will we as americans say to the innocent libyans later when the music of death is over? "Sorrow we did what we did?" we said sorry to the slave sons and daughters. Sorry to the sons those segregated upon racist rules, sorry to those we made sick and killed for medical experiencements. But we keep doing injustice to others. Question is, when do we start preventing saying sorry to our victims? Repent, then change!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ???

    FrontierJustice?: you are so full of it your eyes must be brown. Nice try, though.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ana

    I am soooo sorry to hear of the killing of Mohammad Nabbus – what a tragedy, yet another bright light extinguished so cruelly and mercilessly. I hope that the Libyan people will realize their dream to be free people. They deserve so very much better- Mohammad belived in it to his last breath. I am so confused by the statement that some Arab leaders stated – they feel it is "not honorable" to go against Quaddafi because he is a fellow Arab leader – what kind of honor is that? That does not make any sense, defies all logic. How can it be "honorable" to just stand by and watch the slaughter of innocent Arab people – how can these "honorable" Arab leaders see that as honor. For SHAME on the Middle Eastern Arab leadership -people are not stupid, everyone knows these so called "honorable" men are just worried about their own thrones. I don't think they can push back the tide of freedom – The peoples of the Middle East understand they deserve much, much better. I wish them luck and am rooting for them. Never give up!!! Freedom is the oxygen of the soul!!! If you only knew how many people of goodwill are rooting for you. Do not allow Mohammad to have died in vain – you can have a bright future, he died believing it.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy

    More Words/Phrases that I’m tired of reading in the blogs:

    *Israel is becoming a nation
    Mythical man in the sky
    Educate yourself (after calling you an idiot/moron, without stating exactly *how* to educate yourself)

    *With thanks to RUFFNUTT.
    @Cesar r: XOXO

    Thanks again for the vent.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cesar r

    Well said banasy. Words I hate: Phunnie Boy.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jazz7

    I would like to see Cesar r and banasy get togeather , they sound like a couple already ♥

    March 21, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cesar r

    @Jazz: Hi baby. Buy me a beer at the Olive Garden.

    March 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      u still there

      March 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cesar r

    Yes Jazz7

    March 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      THe real Cesar r , would never call me baby I think he is more into Banasy

      March 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar r

    @Jazz7: It's really me. Let's meet at the last blog. The poor guy that died from Libya, I feel strange here. OK? And our conversation will be gone by morning, ok? Please?

    March 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cesar r

    Well! I never!

    March 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      why do u keep jumping around meet me at the last blog

      March 21, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
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