Journalists Freed from the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli

The Rixos Hotel has become a prison of sorts for 35 international journalists

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Update (11:22 a.m. ET): Matthew Chance describes his experience inside the Rixos to the BBC:

We drove out of the hotel compound into a completely different city than the one we had seen seven days earlier.… It was firmly their belief that if we went outside of the hotel, the rebels would capture us, kill us and rape the women. … I got to one point some time on Monday when I thought: they're going to use this hotel as a barracks for the army for one last stand. If they do that, what's going to happen to us? We found out we had no viable escape route. In the middle of all this violence, with the battle flaring up around us which we could hear but not see, it created this sense of paranoia.

Update (10:51 a.m. ET): Multiple reports that the journalists have left the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli. CNN's Matthew Chance reported that "436 local time: BBC has left the hotel" and "439pm local time: Crammed with other journos in the car. Reuters, other cameramen, FOX, and AP."  He phoned in a live report to CNN as they were driving away. The International Committee of the Red Cross negotiated their release.

Original Post: As the nightmare for foreign journalists trapped inside the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli enters its fifth day, the captives are sounding increasingly desperate. "5 journos enter #rixos from outside, but kicked out by Gadhafi loyalists at gunpoint. We still not allowed to leave?" tweeted CNN's Matthew Chance on Wednesday morning. "All puzzled as to why we are being kept in #rixos. Any ideas?" he followed up a few minutes later. With the hotel surrounded by Qaddafi loyalists, the journalists are describing themselves as hostages. Reporters Without Borders sent out a press release about the situation on Wednesday night urging "all the parties involved to ensure the safety of journalists, both Libyan and foreign," and the British government says they're working with the rebels on a solution. But without much progress the journalists running out of food--Chance ate a Mars bar for breakfast--ideas abound over why they're still stuck.

The journalists are being used as a human shield for Qaddafi seems to be the most popular theory. Nobody knows where the Libyan dictator is hiding, but some think he might be stashed somewhere in the hotel. This isn't the first time that folks have suspected that Qaddafi was taking advantage of foreign journalists in Tripoli. Back in May, Fox News suggested that Qaddafi offered the group staying at the Rixos a tour of his compound during NATO bombings, but they later admitted to misrepresenting some details of the situation. According to The Telegraph, "Mahmud Nacua, charge d'affairs at the Libyan embassy in Britain, earlier said he believes Gaddafi to be hiding with friends at a farm on the outskirts of the city" while rebels think that he's hiding "somewhere in Tripoli," possibly in the complex network of underground tunnels. It would seem hard to believe that Libya's most wanted man could be hiding unnoticed in a crowd of reporters, but Chance says that the reporters have quarantined themselves to the top floor of the hotel, wearing flak jackets and helmets

As a sort of footnote to the human shield theory, pro-Qaddafi forces might also want leverage in case they're captured. This seems like a plausible reason for loyalists to hold their ground outside the hotel, and leaving the the journalists alone inside. The international attention that the journalists have garnered would provide the loyalists with some bargaining power to keep from being taken prisoner themselves. Based on reports from the inside, the journalists aren't being mistreated. "Over night store smashed open by gunmen. Journalists told to help themselves." Matthew Chance reported early Wednesday. "We seem to be in one of the few remaining patches of territory in Libya still which is controlled by Qaddafi's forces and so we're kind of very anxious about what might happen at this hotel in the hours ahead," Chance told Anderson Cooper, adding that there was "still a little bit of hostility."

Inevitably, the big question is, why isn't NATO doing anything about it? The British Foreign office told The Guardian that they're trying:

The situation is deeply concerning. We are urgently working with international organisations and the Free Libya Forces to identify the best way to safely move people in the Rixos as soon as is safe to do so. We urge the Gaddafi forces at the Rixos to allow the journalists to leave.

It's surely possible that a secret mission to rescue the journalists could be in the works, but until more details emerge, the best anyone can do is keep their fingers crossed for the journalists' safety.

"Hoping this nightmare will end in a fizzle--not a bang," said Chance.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.