It was a harrowing experience that included multiple sexual assaults and signs of imminent death. On Tuesday, after being freed, four New York Times journalists recounted their six-day captivity in Libya at the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces. And the details, which also include threats of decapitation, are shocking.
The journalists are Anthony Shadid, The Times’s Beirut bureau chief and a two-time Pulitzer-prize winning foreign correspondent; two photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, who have extensive experience in war zones; and a reporter and videographer, and Stephen Farrell, who in 2009 was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and was rescued by British commandos.
After being stopped at a checkpoint near the city of Ajdabiya last Tuesday, the four journalists immediately knew they were in trouble. Hicks tried to get the driver to go straight through, but to no avail. Quickly, the driver and the journalists were yanked out of the car. That's when the dust came alive, spitting up sand as rebels began firing on their location. Shortly after, the beatings and the death threats started.
“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’” Shadid recalled to the Times. “And we all thought it was over.”
But Someone stepped in. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’” Hicks said. That's when the soldiers turned their attention to the lone female in the group, photographer Lynsey Addario.
A soldier quickly grabbed her shoes, removed the laces, and bound her ankles. He punched her in the face. He laughed.
“Then I started crying,” she said. “And he was laughing more.” Then came the sexual assault. The man grabbed her breasts, the first of many advances.
“There was a lot of groping,” she said. “Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes.”
When the soldiers finally decided to move the group from the bullet-ridden checkpoint, the threats began anew. Hicks said one man promised to decapitate him. Another continued stroking Addario while assuring her she would die.
“He was caressing my head in this sick way, this tender way, saying: ‘You’re going to die tonight. You’re going to die tonight,’" she said.
Addario and her counterparts were eventually turned over to Libyan defense officials. But not before experiencing more rifle butts to the back. On Monday, they were freed. On Tuesday, we hear their account.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, rejoiced. “Because of the volatile situation in Libya, we’ve kept our enthusiasm and comments in check until they were out of the country," he said, "but now feels like a moment for celebration."
Read about the entire ordeal from the New York Times.