Journalists trapped in Tripoli’s Rixos hotel are freed

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

Dozens of journalists that were trapped inside the Rixos Al Nasr Hotel in Tripoli for five days have been allowed to leave.

"It's been an absolute nightmare for all of us," CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance--one of the trapped journalists--said on air Wednesday. "I can't tell you how relieved we all are."

All of the journalists were allowed to leave on Wednesday, Chance said, and were escorted in four Red Cross vehicles to another hotel at an undisclosed location. No one was injured, he said. "Perhaps some emotional scars, but other than that, nothing," he said. "It's a huge, huge relief."

The journalists--from CNN, Fox News, Reuters and other outlets--had been held inside by armed forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, and the $400-a-night Rixos had become something of a five-star "prison" for journalists.

Even if they were allowed to leave, the New York Times noted, "a raging gun battle outside would probably prevent them from getting very far."

Chance told Anderson Cooper on Tuesday that while, at first, they might have felt mildly relieved to be sheltered from the gunfire outside, they are "not happy being here anymore."

Chance described the situation inside the hotel as "grim."

The journalists--roughly 35 in number--had taken a floor in the hotel, dressed in body armor and bulletproof vests as some windows had been shot out with bullets.

"We're very anxious about what might happen in this hotel in the hours ahead," Chance said.

"There is no power and no running water," the Associated Press' Dario Lopez-Mills wrote. "On Monday we ate bread and butter. On Tuesday, the cook made french fries. Bottled water is running low. We don't know when it's going to end." Fox News' Tadek Markowski described a similar scene. "[It was] the hotel from hell," Markowski said.

On Wednesday, Chance reported via Twitter that five journalists tried to enter the hotel, but were turned away by Gadhafi forces at gunpoint.

"All puzzled as to why we are being kept in #rixos," Chance wrote. "Any ideas?"

On Tuesday, Chance told Cooper, "We feel that they feel that we're valuable."

Reuters released a series of photographs of the journalists inside Rixos in varying degrees of fear and boredom.

Jomana Karadsheh, a CNN producer who was also trapped inside Rixos, said she had been negotiating with the guards for their release, telling one of them about wanting to see her family.

"He got tears in his eyes at that moment," Karadsheh said. "Slowly myself and another colleague here, an Arab camera man, sat there with him and said things are changing out there ... just let us go."

Meanwhile, Karadsheh and Chance's CNN colleague Sara Sidner--who was not one of the trapped journalists--has been delivering on-air reports amid waves of loud, celebratory gunfire that is nonetheless less unnerving.

"These bullets have to come down somewhere," she said on Wednesday.

"We had no idea Tripoli was like this," the BBC's Matthew Price, another one of the trapped journalists, said.

Below you can see the journalists trapped inside the hotel.