BBC Staffers Tortured, Subjected to ‘Mock Execution’ By Pro-Gaddafi Security Forces

The members of a BBC news team were arrested, tortured, and ‘subjected to a mock execution’ by security forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime for 21 hours on Monday. The Guardian reports that Feras Killani, a reporter for the BBC Arabic service, a Palestinian refugee with a Syrian passport and Turkish cameraman Goktay Koraltan, were arrested on Monday with Chris Cobb-Smith, a British citizen, at a checkpoint in Zahra, six miles from the town of Zawiya which is 30 miles from Tripoli and where pro-Gaddafi supporters attacked the rebel forces on Tuesday. The BBC team had been trying to reach the Zawiya.

The BBC staffers’ account is the ‘first real eyewitness depiction of conditions endured by those arrested by the regime, including those whose only crime has been to talk to foreign journalists.’ Their ordeal, says the Guardian, ‘represents the most serious incident yet involving the targeting of the international media.’

The account is indeed harrowing. The Guardian offers a full narrative that mentions the journalists being assaulted with rifle butts, plastic pipes, and boots; being interrogated about being ‘”British spies” despite having permission to work in Libya’; having, in Killani’s case, a paper mask taped over his face; being handcuffed; kept in a cage amid several other prisoners–some of whom were women.

Killani, according to the BBC, was singled out for repeated beatings; he was told that his captors ‘did not like his reporting of the Libyan popular uprising and accused him of being a spy.’ Says Killani:

“I was looking out of the cage. Cars were coming and going. I saw them bring in a guy and three girls, prisoners, too. Two of them told me they had broken ribs. The four who were masked, I helped them breathe by lifting their masks, saw they had been badly beaten. 

“The four who were masked said they had been three days without food and with arms and legs cuffed. They said where they were now was like heaven compared to where they had been. They said they had been tortured for three days, and were from Zawiya. The four all knew each other. They didn’t want to talk much. None of them said they were involved in fighting but the guard told me. Their hands were swollen and so were their faces.” 

The next morning, after a frantic effort by the BBC’s team to locate the men and secure their release, they were taken to another barracks. Cobb-Smith could hear screams of pain coming from the second floor and could see people being moved around hooded and handcuffed.

“We were lined up against the wall facing it. I stepped aside to face a gap so they wouldn’t be able to smash my face into the wall. A man with a small submachine gun was putting it to the nape of everyone’s neck in turn. He pointed the barrel at each of us. When he got to me at the end of the line, he pulled the trigger twice. The shots went past my ear.

“After the shooting incident, one man who spoke very good English, almost Oxford English, came to ask who we were, home towns and so on. He was very pleasant, ordered them to cut off our handcuffs. When he had filled in the paperwork, it was suddenly all over. They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food.” Finally the men were set free.

The BBC staffers were fortunate: Cobb-Smith, who was not assaulted, was able to contact the BBC at their hotel using a cell phone he had kept hidden. 

A senior Libya government official has apologized for what happened to the BBC team. But what about the other prisoners whose ordeal is far from over?


Previous Care2 Coverage

Gaddafi’s Forces Attack Rebels in Zawiya; Iranian Weapons En Route To Taliban Seized [VIDEO]

The Women Of Egypt – A Strong, Defiant Force

Saudi Arabia Bans All Protests

Rebels and Pro-Gaddafi Forces Battle in Libya; Obama Faces a Political Dilemma

Drawing Observations From the Frenzy in the Middle East/North Africa


Photo from REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah via  شبكة برق | B.R.Q.
The photo shows opposed to leader Muammar Gaddafi sit with an anti-aircraft gun at a barricade in the centre of the city of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, March 1, 2011.


Jennifer M.
Jennifer M7 years ago


Jillian E.
Jillian Edwards7 years ago

While the UN, US and EU all waffle and hum and ha about what to do, people, who only want the freedom to live and talk freely without fear, are being tortured and dying in their 100s. It's about time nations did away with the Veto and allowed consensus. Gadaffi and his clique are murderers and must be stopped. But without help from outside they will continue their appalling human rights abuses with impunity.

Rani M.
Rani M.7 years ago

I wrote a long comment yesterday. To my diappointment it was not added to your blog. I may have mistakenly switched my last password numbers around. Can you retrieve it?
Many thanks.

KAREN L7 years ago

The pro-Khadafi are all living in a NUT shell which will one day, hopefully soon, will break open and free the other part of the population.

Jayna W.
Jayna W7 years ago

No one bothers to mention that in places like China, Libya, Egypt, Mexico and Iran it is illegal to own a firearm and carries serious consequences. That makes it a simple matter for the armies of those nations to run over and slaughter protesters.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M7 years ago

How horrible to be tortured like the BBC staffer's were, but like they said, "what is going to happen to the others who are being tortured?" Libya does not seem to believe in Human Rights, and use excuses of people being spys, terrorists etc. I don't know how they are going to deal with Ghadaffi, but sooner or later he will be punished for his crimes against humanity. My prayers are with the prisoners.

Sound Mind
Ronald E7 years ago

No surprises here. They know the risks going in.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan7 years ago

I hope that the people the BBc team saw in the jail are okay.

Olivia Schlosser
Past Member 7 years ago

I am surprised the mad man is still alive...but then the inside attempt to kill Hitler failed.

Yvonne S.
Yvonne S7 years ago

I can only say that I am grateful that they have been released and are now safe. They were doing their jobs and what happened to them was very, very wrong.