Conflict & Justice

Captured journalists believe to be in Tripoli (UPDATE)



Journalist James Foley reporting for GlobalPost from Benghazi, Libya in mid-March. Foley, along with three other foreign journalists, was detained by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on April 5.

BOSTON — A source in Tripoli has reported that two American journalists and one Spanish photographer were seen inside a Tripoli detention center last week.

The three journalists were likely GlobalPost correspondent James Foley; Clare Morgana Gillis, who wrote for The Atlantic and USA Today; and Manu Brabo, the Spanish photographer.

Foley, Gillis and Brabo were first taken by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on April 5 on the outskirts of Brega, a key oil town that has been the site of continuous fighting for weeks. A South African photographer, Anton Hammerl, had also been with them at the time of their capture. But his current location remains unknown.

The sighting of Foley, Gillis and Brabo is the first confirmation that the captured reporters made it to Tripoli.

Turkish officials in Tripoli had earlier said they were talking to the the Libyan government and hoped to secure the release of the journalists soon. The Turkish government, which is one of the few countries still operating an embassy in Tripoli, has helped free a number of other journalists captured in Libya in recent weeks, including four New York Times reporters.

A Turkish official said that he hoped to have "good news" soon.

Philip S. Balboni, GlobalPost CEO, expressed his gratitude to the Turkish government and to its diplomats in Tripoli and in Washington, DC, for their efforts to secure the release of the journalists.

“We deeply appreciate the very important behind-the-scenes work being carried out by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and its staff who are negotiating with the Libyan authorities to secure the release of our journalists,” he said.

News of their whereabouts and possible release were expected earlier on Sunday when a group of foreign journalists reporting from Tripoli were taken by government minders apparently to meet the four captured reporters. But the trip was canceled with no explanation.

South African President Jacob Zuma was in Tripoli on Sunday to meet with Gaddafi. Zuma was aware of the missing photographer, sources in Tripoli said, but was unable to raise the issue. South Africa has now reached out to the United States for help finding and securing the release of the photographer.

Plans are in place to receive the captured journalists at the Tunisian border, as soon as they are released, and to facilitate their safe return home. GlobalPost has been working closely with The Atlantic and with USA Today.

The parents of Foley, John and Diane, said in a statement that they were grateful to all the "compassionate" people who were working to free their son and the other journalists detained in Libya and the rest of the world.

"We want to sincerely thank you for caring about these fearless young journalists and photographers, whose passion it is to bring news from all the troubled parts of the world to us," Diane Foley, his mother, said in the statement. "Thank you for your courageous efforts to negotiate their release and that of so many others detained throughout the world. May God bless you and all your efforts."

Musa Ibrahim, the chief spokesman for the Libyan government, said on Thursday at a press conference that the four journalists were being held by the Libyan military and said that they would be treated decently.

The confirmation that the journalists are being held is an important step in a process to get them released, according to Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for Human Rights Watch.

(Read more about journalists being targeted in Libya.)

"Things normally look up from here," said Bouckaert, who has worked on similar cases, including the New York Times journalists who were captured and eventually released by Libyan authorities last month.

“I want to express my deep appreciation to the many people and organizations that continue to work with us to ensure their safe release, including the many journalists on the ground in Tripoli, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, former U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon, the U.S. State Department, the Libyan officials who have expressed their commitment to making certain these journalists get returned quickly and safely. I am particularly indebted to the staff of the New York Times whose compassion and advice over the past 24 hours was invaluable,” said GlobalPost President and CEO Philip S. Balboni.

Bouckaert, who is based in Geneva, informed GlobalPost of the detentions early Thursday morning. He said the journalists had been taken on Tuesday afternoon while they were reporting on the outskirts of Brega.

The initial information of the capture of the journalists came in an email to Bouckaert from New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers containing eyewitness accounts at the scene. Those witnesses said that the van Foley was travelling in with the other journalists had been stopped by an indirect fire strike and that Gaddafi forces took the journalists prisoner and released the driver.

GlobalPost has been in contact with James Foley’s family and is working with all of the organizations involved, including the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, to gather information and secure the journalists’ release.

“Requests have been made to the Libyan foreign media office for the release of James Foley and the other journalists detained by government forces. We appeal to the Libyan authorities for the immediate and safe release of these journalists. Our thoughts are with Jim’s family and with the families of the other journalists,” Balboni said.

On Sunday, in a separate incident, the Associated Press reported that one of their photographers, had gone missing in eastern Libya.  Altaf Qadri, an Indian citizen, became separated from his colleagues near the eastern city of Ajdabiya while on assignment on Saturday. Qadri, however, turned up safe and unharmed, the Associated Press said on Monday.

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, reported that one of four correspondents detained by Libyan authorities last month was released on Monday. Ahmad Vall Ould Eddin, the network's Mauritanian correspondent, spent three weeks in a Tripoli jail before he was released on March 31. Hours later he was arrested again and detained until his release on Monday.

(Watch videos and read stories from James Foley in Libya and Afghanistan.)