By Art Harris, The Bald Truth, (c) www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
Sleepless and under unfathomable stress for five days as hostages of “crazy gunmen” in a five star Tripoli hotel, CNN’s Matthew Chance and dozens of international journalists were released Wednesday morning after a harrowing chapter in the life of even the most seasoned war correspondent.
“We were hostages,” he said Wednesday on CNN, something he was cautious about conveying in his live reporting until now, fearful of how AK-47 armed guards might react if he described the terror he and others were experiencing as Tripoli was falling to rebels outside, and journalists negotiated with guards who could not believe or accept fate after more than 40 years of a dictator’s iron rule.
Gutsy and professional throughout his ordeal, Chance said he’d been “very frightened,” but hadn’t shown it as he kept his cool, reporting with restraint for five days to avoid alarming his captors, and was now reporting live that he was free, and snaking his way through rebel check points in a five car, International Red Cross convoy packed with some three dozen fellow journalists.
No one was injured, save for “emotional scars,” he said, adding that several were openly weeping tears of relief.
Using a borrowed satellite phone from Chinese journalists over the last few days, he’d been calling in regularly after his cell phone batteries died, to describe “the nightmare” inside one of the Libyan capital’s swankiest hotels as journalists retreated to upper floors to keep away from young, Ghadaffi flag waving gunmen, seemingly high on anger and delusion, as they ran out of food and water, cut off from shifting Middle East history in the bloody streets.
Held at gunpoint by guards loyal to Mohamar Khadaffi, journalists were barred from leaving, their captors saying they could not guarantee their safety. Meanwhile, Chance said they were running out of food and water, and had to scavenge the hotel kitchen for supplies–in the dark–after electricty was turned off. There was no internet.
What he couldn’t report until now were the delicate negotiations to free the hostages, as Arab speaking journalists finally convinced guards Ghadafi’s goose was cooked.
Finally getting it, in a sudden epiphany, one older guard disarmed his AK 47 and threw it across the hotel lobby, said Chance. That seemed to signal a turning point.
Meanwhile, Red Cross cars pulled up to the hotel to load up the journalists, and one member of Congress, and Chance and his colleagues pulled away from their five star prison to experience Tripoli falling, another amazing domino in the shifting political sands of the Middle East.