BBC journalists tortured in mock execution ordeal

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The Independent Online

Three BBC journalists have described how they were subjected to a terrifying ordeal – including mock executions, being held in a cage and, for one of them, repeated beatings – after being arrested by Libyan security forces near the flashpoint town of Zawiyah .

The three BBC employees – a Palestinian refugee using a Syrian passport, a Turk, and a Briton – flew out of Libya last night after being detained for almost 24 hours since their arrest on Monday afternoon at a checkpoint six miles south of Zawiyah while travelling without an official "minder".

The Briton, Chris Cobb-Smith, said yesterday that they and their local driver had at one point a sub-machine gun fitted pointed at each of them in turn to the back of their necks before the gun was fired twice. "The shots went past my ear."

Earlier, the Palestinian Feras Killani, who the men say was subjected to the worst physical attacks, was accused of being a British spy and suffered multiple beatings.

Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli, has reportedly been the scene of fierce fighting between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces since the Libyan leader was quoted as warning his supporters nearly two weeks ago that the town was "slipping away" from the regime's control.

While it has been difficult to establish the outcome of the fighting in Zawiyah with any certainty, Libyan officials said the town was now largely under the regime's control with only small "pockets of violence". Journalists were taken late last night in government buses to a sports club in one district of the town where there were around 300 pro-Gaddafi demonstrators chanting slogans amid a noisy firework display

The BBC men said that they were initially held for around 45 minutes at a checkpoint six miles south of Zawiyah on Monday afternoon, where their BBC IDs were checked. Their cameras and most of their mobile phones were taken but they were otherwise not treated badly at this stage.

But after the team was taken next to a barracks known as Kilometre 27 Centre, and asked if they had official permission to be out reporting, another security force captain arrived and began questioning Mr Killani in Arabic. He was then beaten with fists, boots, knees a plastic pipe and a stick.

They were put in a car with an armed guard who kept a gun pointed at the prisoners and was ordered by the captain to shoot Mr Cobb-Smith if he asked a question and Mr Killani if he said "one word" in English. The Turkish member of the team, Goktay Koraltan, said: "They took us out of the car and in the middle of the compound there was a cage, they put three of us in the cage and the last thing I saw before the door shut they hit Feras with an AK 47."

Mr Killani recalled: "They knocked me down to the ground with their guns, AK-47s. I was down on my knees and I heard them cocking their guns. I thought they were going to shoot me. It was a fake execution."

In the morning the three men were reunited and moved to another location where they were lined up facing a wall. Mr Cobb-Smith said: "A man with a small sub-machine gun was putting it to the nape of everyone's neck in turn. He pointed the barrel at each of us. When he got to me at the end of the line, he pulled the trigger twice. The shots went past my ear... They all laughed as though it was very funny." It was their last ordeal before being released.