Journalists freed from Tripoli hotel after days

AP News
Posted: Aug 24, 2011 4:29 PM
Journalists freed from Tripoli hotel after days

Dozens of international journalists were freed from a Tripoli hotel on Wednesday after five grueling days of sniper fire, power cuts, dwindling supplies and threats by armed men loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Dozens of journalists were taken in Red Cross cars and vans to another Tripoli hotel, where they hugged friends and colleagues. Many were crying.

The journalists had been held at gunpoint by two nervous Kalashnikov-wielding guards who refused to give up their posts despite rebel victories elsewhere in the city. Indian-born international evangelist K. A. Paul and former Congressman Walter Fauntroy, who served two decades in Congress as a non-voting member from Washington, D.C., were also held.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was talking to loyalist forces about the captives' safety on Wednesday when they were suddenly informed that Gadhafi's men were ready to release them.

"We were able to gather everyone in four cars, no problem," said George Comninos, the Red Cross' head of delegation in Tripoli. "Of course, it was still a tense situation."

Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter who entered the hotel found the journalists wearing helmets and flak jackets, clustered on the second floor, where a guard said they weren't permitted to leave.

Other journalists showed up at the gate, including a group in a car decorated with a rebel flag, and were forced out of the car and into the hotel, where they joined the dozens who had been there for days.

Those who had been held captive inside the hotel described running battles in the area, and intermittent electricity.

They were sleeping huddled on the floor in one wing of the hotel to protect each other for fear of people being attacked in their rooms, their belongings packed in case of need for a sudden departure.

It was a far cry from the normally luxurious living in the $400-a-night hotel with gleaming brass fixtures.

Journalists were housed there for more than six months, closely watched by government minders and taken on approved tours of Tripoli and neighboring towns.

The hotel also housed many Libyan government officials and their families _ including spokesman Moussa Ibrahim and his German wife and baby.

As the rebels drew closer, however, most left, leaving the journalists alone with increasingly nervous gunmen.

Several said the first days of their captivity featured some of the most frightening moments.

"We were in the dining room making a big pot of tea when a sniper put two rounds through the window," said Fox News videojournalist Paul Roubicek.

He said that at other times the captives couldn't go outside because snipers were shooting at them and at their satellite equipment on the roof.

CNN journalist Jomana Karadsheh said the captives were held by 15 armed men until Tuesday, when the numbers dwindled to two. Some of the journalists' captors held impromptu press conferences describing their plans for a massive final battle around the Rixos, she said.

"Once I got into the car I couldn't stop crying," she said.

Save for the two guards, all the hotel employees had fled and the journalists were cooking for themselves. One guard expressed surprise when told most of the city was in rebel hands. Parked in front of the hotel was the bus once used by government minders to ferry journalists around the city _ on its windshield was a huge poster of Gadhafi _ one of the only ones apparently left in the city.