'Guardian' journalist among two held by Gaddafi authorities

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The Independent Online

The Guardian newspaper said last night that their award-winning reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and a Brazilian journalist he was travelling with were in the custody of Libyan authorities, after being detained while trying to report on the rebellion against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Mr Abdul-Ahad has been in Libya for two weeks after entering the country via Tunisia, but had not contacted the paper since Sunday, when he was on the outskirts of Zawiya, a town west of Tripoli that has been the scene of fierce fighting this week. He was in the company of the Brazilian newspaper journalist Andrei Netto.

The Guardian said on their website last night that Libyan foreign ministry officials had confirmed the pair were in custody. They were believed to have been detained on Monday near the coastal town of Sabratha.

The plight of the two reporters follows the arrest on Monday of a team of three journalists from the BBC Arabic Service who were seized outside Zawiya and held for 21 hours at various compounds where they were beaten by government security forces and subjected to mock executions.

Feras Kilani, a Palestinian refugee with a Syrian passport, Goktay Koraltan, who is Turkish, and Briton Chris Cobb-Smith were stopped at a checkpoint at Al-Zahra, south of Zawiya. Their local driver was also taken. During their detention the BBC team was accused of spying and had a gun barrel pressed to their necks.

Gaddafi loyalists have set up roadblocks around Zawiya and are attempting to prevent journalists from entering the town, which came under heavy attack from government forces after local people rose up against the ruling regime. The dangers to journalists covering the Libyan uprising are most extreme in the west of the country which

is still held by pro-Gaddafi forces. Heather Blake, the UK director of Reporters Without Borders, said: "[Reporters] coming into the country from the [rebel-held] east are much better off. But coming in from the west which is very much under the control of Gaddafi and his regime, there will be a greater threat unless you are going to become part of his propaganda machine." Foreign journalists arriving in Tripoli are being subjected to strict controls.

Mr Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi national, has written for The Guardian since 2004 and is on the newspaper's staff. He has spent long periods in Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Netto is the Paris correspondent for the Brazilian newspaper Estado. Brazilian officials are negotiating for his release and reports last night said the Libyan ambassador to Brazil had told Brazilian senators Mr Netto was about to be released.