Surprisingly, Getting Kidnapped by Libyan Government Forces Is Completely Terrifying

Journalists, including New York Times photographers Tyler Hicks (right in glasses) and Lynsey Addario (far left), run for cover during a bombing run by Libyan government planes at a checkpoint near the oil refinery of Ras Lanuf March 11, 2011. Hicks and Addario, along with NYT correspondents Stephen Farrell and Anthony Shadid, are missing since falling behind the lines of Muammar Gaddafi's advancing forces two days ago, the NYT announced on Wednesday. Picture taken March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Conroy (LIBYA - Tags: CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST MEDIA IMAGES OF THE DAY) Photo: ? STR New / Reuters

In this morning's Times, the four journalists who were briefly detained by the Libyan government told their stories to media reporter Jeremy Peters. Needless to say, it sounds very scary — something that was belied by the calm with which the paper responded to news of their absence and the subsequent negotiation of their release. The four journalists, Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, reporter and videographer Stephen Farrell, and photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, had been covering fighting outside of the city of Ajdabiya early last week when they attempted to cross a checkpoint manned by Qaddafi loyalists. As the soldiers yanked them out of their vehicles, rebels began firing on the checkpoint.

“You could see the bullets hitting the dirt,” Mr. Shadid said.

All four made it safely behind a small, one-room building, where they tried to take cover. But the soldiers had other plans. They told all four to empty their pockets and ordered them on the ground. And that is when they thought they were seconds from death.

“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’” Mr. Shadid said. “And we all thought it was over.”

Then another soldier spoke up. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’” Mr. Hicks said.

Qaddafi's men tied up the journalists, punching Addario in the face and fondling her repeatedly. "There was a lot of groping," she told Peters. "Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes." Later, one would hold her head and caress it, telling her that she was "going to die tonight."

Eventually they were transported to a safe house, where the Times and American diplomats became aware of their health and location. A tense period of negotiation followed, as coalition forces began air strikes over Libya. Qaddafi's officials began by insisting that an American diplomat show up to retrieve them, but eventually allowed for Turkish ones to handle the release across the Tunisian border instead. The four are now recovering in safety.

Freed Times Journalists Give Account of Captivity [NYT]