BBC reporter admits ‘I feared the worst’ as foreign journalists freed from hotel


by G.A.Ponsonby
Freed BBC reporter Mathew Price has admitted that he feared for his life after gunmen loyal to Colonel Gaddafi stormed the hotel he and other foreign journalists were staying in.
Mr Price, who had just been freed along with the 30 or so other journalists, was speaking on BBC radio when he described his fears as the group were prevented from leaving the Rixos Hotel by the gunmen who were wielding Kalashnikovs.

The journalists had been held by the gunmen for days and fears were growing that they could be used as human shields.

A relieved Mr Price told the BBC that the gunmen had been ordered by Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam to keep the journalists at the hotel in order to ‘keep them safe’.  Mr Price described as “remarkable” the fact that the gunmen still believed that Gaddafi’s troops could triumph despite all the evidence around them.

Asked if there were times when he feared the worst Mr Price said: “Yeh, there were”.

Mr Price described the initial events on Sunday as not causing great alarm as the men who were armed were known to the journalists.  However on Monday he described the arrival of gunmen they had never seen before.

The BBC correspondent explained how he feared for his safety given what he described as the “propaganda” that had been fed to the guards by the Gaddafi regime over the last six months, describing Britain and the BBC as “the enemy”.

He said: “We wondered if our lives were at risk because of that, because clearly we were being seen as on one side of the conflict.”

Mr Price described the “real fear” of being held hostage and used as a human shield and of his concern that the hotel would be used as a barracks for Gaddafi loyalists willing to make a last stand.

He added: “[I thought] … If they do that then what’s going to happen to us, are we going to be dragged from our rooms?”

Mr Price revealed that all of the journalists then started sleeping in the same corridor in the hope that if they needed to run then they may be able to reach a “relatively safe room”.

The journalist said that whilst inside the hotel they were aware of the fighting that was going on around them but they did not know who was winning and thus did not realise that if they escaped from the hotel then they would have been safe.

He described the situation with the gunmen and the group of journalists as “mind games” that created a sense of paranoia and left them completely without any information and no sense of what was happening in the city.

The situation in the capital is still unpredictable and although Gaddafi’s stronghold of Bab al-Azizya was overrun by rebels, the continuing fighting has led to the NTC (National Transitional Council) leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil delaying his planned visit to the Libyan capital by one week.

The NTC have also announced a reward and amnesty to any Gaddafi loyalist prepared to hand over the former dictator whose whereabouts is still unknown.

Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said he would personally like to see Abdelbaset Al Megrahi back behind bars.  The Lib Dem leader made the statement on a visit to Scotland today and follows a similar statement from UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

There has been no contact with the Libyan since the fighting escalated in the Libyan capital.

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the Lockerbie bombing, said he feared for Megrahi’s fate.

“Megrahi at the moment, when we last spoke to him, is with his family in Tripoli,” he said.

“I think he is at great risk of being assassinated, either by the incoming rebels or perhaps being snatched by an American special forces team – I can’t know which is the most likely.

“But if he escapes that the question will be how will the rebels – when they are victorious – deal with him?”