Foreign journalists still held by Qaddafi forces

GlobalPost correspondent James Foley in Libya
GlobalPost
GlobalPost correspondent James Foley in Libya
GlobalPost

(GlobalPost)--Diplomats in Libya are awaiting confirmation of the arrival in Tripoli of GlobalPost freelance contributor James Foley, an American, and the three other foreign journalists who were taken captive by Libyan authorities earlier this week.

Five days after the four reporters were captured by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near the eastern oil town of Brega, there has still been no direct communication with them. But officials at the Turkish embassy in Tripoli said they are in talks with the LIbyan authorities.

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

On Sunday morning a group of foreign journalists reporting from Tripoli were taken by government minders apparently to meet the four captured journalists. But the trip was canceled with no explanation given.

Detained along with Foley, was Clare Morgana Gillis, another American who has written for the Atlantic Monthly and USA Today; Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer; and Anton Hammerl, a South African photographer.

South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Tripoli on Sunday ahead of a planned meeting with Gaddafi. Zuma is aware of the captured photographer, sources in Tripoli said. One foreign journalist in Tripoli said he spotted both Gillis and Foley in a Tripoli prison.

Also on Sunday, in a separate incident, it was reported that another journalist, an AP photographer, is missing in eastern Libya.

As soon as the four journalists who were captured on Tuesday are released, plans are in place to receive them at the Tunisian border and to facilitate their safe return home. GlobalPost has been working closely with the Atlantic Monthly and with USA Today.

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

Further confirmation came from Gaddafi's son Saadi who spoke to former U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon, who is in Tripoli. "Saadi has assured me that he will personally act on their behalf immediately," said Weldon, in an email to GlobalPost.

"I have raised these concerns directly with Saadi Gaddafi, Bashir Saleh (chief of staff to Gaddafi) and the prime minister," Weldon said. "Saadi Gaddafi has promised to personally investigate these cases and to report on his success -- he has done similar work on behalf of other journalists."

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 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.

"We are aware of reports coming out of Libya that our correspondent James Foley and the other journalists taken prisoner are now in the hands of the Libyan government and are safe. We are not able to independently confirm these reports, but we are encouraged that a positive end to this situation may be closer at hand," said GlobalPost President and CEO Philip S. Balboni.

"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 journalist 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."

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.

GlobalPost and other news organizations are continuing to work to gather additional information about the journalists' condition and whereabouts and to secure their timely release.

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. GlobalPost CEO and President Philip S. Balboni released this statement:

"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."

The AP photographer who is missing is Altaf Qadri, an Indian citizen, who became separated from his colleagues near the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya while on assignment Saturday, according to the AP.

"We have lost contact with our AP colleague, photographer Altaf Qadri, in eastern Libya. We are concerned about his safety and are taking appropriate steps to locate him," the agency said in a statement.

Qadri, 35, won a World Press Photo award this year for his photograph of relatives mourning over the body of a man killed in a shooting by Indian police in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

"We are, of course, most focused on making sure that Altaf is safe and secure and that we are reunited with him as quickly as possible, " said John Daniszewski, AP's senior managing editor for international news and photos. "If he has been captured or is being detained, we fully expect that he will be protected and kept out of harm's way."

Watch videos and read stories from James Foley in Libya and Afghanistan