National Press Photographers Association

New York Times Journalists Released In Libya; 3 Other Journalists Still Missing

 

NEW YORK, NY (March 21, 2011) – Four New York Times journalists captured by the Libyan military last week have been released today, according to Turkey's ambassador to the United States and the newspaper.

Times executive editor Bill Keller has now confirmed that the four have traveled out of Libya and have safely crossed into Tunisia.

New York Times photojournalists Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks, videographer and reporter Stephen Farrell, and Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid had been missing and presumed to be in the custody of the Libyan government since last Tuesday.

Turkish ambassador Namik Tan tweeted a message this morning that Turkey had negotiated with the Libyan government for the release of the Times journalists. Tan texted that the four are now "on their way to leave Libyan border and will be delivered to US officials."


In a statement this morning the newspaper said the journalists had been released to the Turkish embassy in Tripoli, and that Turkish diplomats would accompany them out of Libya.

Now that they are free and safe in Tunisia a more detailed account of where they have been for a week is becoming known. The four journalists were leaving the eastern front-line clashes around Ajdabiya on Tuesday and headed for Benghazi, the rebel stronghold to the east, when they came upon an unexpected checkpoint. While at the checkpoint, manned by loyal Libyan soldiers, they were detained. And then the checkpoint came under fire from rebels. There was a gunfight between the Libyan soldiers and the rebels, and when the fighting subsided the journalists were taken by Libyan soldiers to a Qaddafi stronghold in Surt. Later they were flown from Surt to Tripoli in a military aircraft.

On Thursday, through back channels, the Libyan government informed the Times that they had the four in custody and they would soon be set free. But within hours a United Nations resolution to establish a no-fly zone over Libya came to life with air attacks and cruise missile strikes on air defense targets and their released was delayed.

On Monday they were turned over to Turkish diplomats in Libya who accompanied them on the long drive west to the Tunisian border.

Keller wrote a note to the newsroom saying he was "overjoyed" by the news.

"Because of the volatile situation in Libya, we've kept our enthusiasm and comments in check until they were out of the country, but now feels like a moment for celebration," Keller wrote.

“We’re particularly indebted to the Government of Turkey, which intervened on our behalf to oversee the release of our journalists and bring them to Tunisia,” he told the newsroom. “We were also assisted throughout the week by diplomats from the United States and United Kingdom.”

The Libyan government let the four New York Times journalists each make one phone call of a minute or less to their families last Thursday evening, but since then there had been no word from them until this morning.

At one point it looked like they were about to be released on Friday night. But then the United Nations passed a resolution to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, and when allied forces began hitting Libyan air defense sites with cruise missile attacks and French fighter jets bombed Libyan troops near a rebel stronghold, the release effort went silent again as the north African nation came under attack.

The newspaper has admitted that their four journalists entered Libya from the east through Egypt without visas or Libyan government permission in order to cover the rebel-controlled eastern region and the civil war. Sometime after Tuesday morning last week they were detained near Ajdabiya by troops loyal to the Libyan government.

While the journalism community is relieved that the four Times journalists are now safely out of Libya, there are still three journalists who are missing there and unaccounted for.


The three are Getty Images photojournalist Joe Raedle, an American based in south Florida, and Agence France-Press photographer Roberto Schmidt from Nairobi and reporter Dave Clark from Paris.

Raedle, 45, is a former South Florida Sun Sentinel staff photographer with years of experience covering wars and global disasters. Schmidt has south Florida ties as well, having graduated from the University of Miami. Raedle has worked for Getty since 2001 and has photographed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Schmidt has worked for AFP since 1989, and he's been posted in Nairobi as AFP's chief photographer for East Africa.

AFP said the trio went missing Friday while working near the eastern city of Tobruk, not far from the Egyptian border. On Friday they sent an eMail saying they planned to head 22 miles out of Tobruk to cover rebels and to speak with refugees who are fleeing the combat zones.

And the Al-Jazeera network reported that four of its journalists, including a Briton and a Norwegian, were detained in western Libya and are being held in Tripoli.

 

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