Journalist Recalls Being Held In Tripoli Hotel

Robert Siegel speaks with Missy Ryan of Reuters about being held captive in the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya, for the past several days.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Just a few weeks ago, the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli seemed like the scene of some absurdist drama, the guests with the foreign press corps. They'd been allowed into the country by the government, but only on the condition that their movements were controlled by government minders. The minders tried to limit the reporters' exposure to only the most glowing view of a crumbling regime. In recent days, it turned into more of a horror show. The reporters effectively became hostages of pro-Gadhafi gunmen until today, when they were finally allowed to leave the hotel.

And that included reporter Missy Ryan of Reuters. Welcome to the program once again.

MISSY RYAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, when did life in the Rixos Hotel change from just being editorially constraining to being really frightening?

RYAN: The conditions really began to deteriorate last Saturday when the rebels entered Tripoli. And at that point, there was fighting raging across the city and many of the government minders that we had been dealing with the entire time during my stay suddenly disappeared. There was fighting quite close to the hotel and we were prevented from leaving.

SIEGEL: Prevented by whom?

RYAN: Gunmen associated with the Gadhafi government. They were volunteers, but there were also snipers surrounding the hotel.

SIEGEL: And did they understand that you and the others were foreign journalists? Did they regard you as allies of the rebels? How did they treat you?

RYAN: They certainly did and they told us that they were preventing us from leaving for our own protection - that fighting would present an imminent danger to ourselves and they were responsible for our safety. Certainly, there may have been other reasons to keep us there. I don't know that I would go so far as to say that we were hostages, but we were unable to walk out the door. We were prevented at gunpoint several times from doing so. It was a tense experience.

There were ups and downs, but fortunately there was a good group of journalists and we banded together. At least part of the time that we were there we went without power and water. We raided the food stocks in the basement of the hotel. We filled up water jugs and plastic water bottles from the Turkish bath in the hotel. It's a very luxurious hotel. We spent a lot of time sleeping in the hallways and in a windowless room on the second floor of the hotel when there was fighting and shelling going on nearby.

SIEGEL: Could you communicate by phone or text with people outside during all that time?

RYAN: For part of it, we could. Then, the cell service dropped out. Normally, we would use satellite phones, but because of the snipers, we couldn't really go outside. There were a few satellite lines. A few organizations had fed satellite lines into their rooms. We were able to share those lines, thanks to their generosity. A few people had put BGANs, satellite transmission devices, outside of their rooms to connect to the internet. My BGAN was actually hit by a sniper yesterday, so that took that out of commission for a while.

SIEGEL: You weren't attending it at the time, I assume. It was...

RYAN: I was, actually.

SIEGEL: What was that like?

RYAN: Oh, well, it was a sort of loud bang and I left the room quite quickly, so...

SIEGEL: You're laughing about it now, but you're saying your room took a hit, in effect.

RYAN: Well, the BGAN was right outside the room, so what we would do is I was sitting on the floor inside my patio with my flak jacket and a helmet on and, you know, you sort of stretch the cord out as far as you can. So it was probably about three or four feet away.

SIEGEL: If you were someday a foreign editor at Reuters or somewhere else and the offer came through, country X is in the midst of a civil war and we can get a reporter in, but they'll be confined to a hotel with government minders, is it an assignment worth taking?

RYAN: You know, I think it's something I'd have to think carefully about. I think it's important that we were there. Certainly, we were able to have a presence and describe the scene in Tripoli, albeit to a very limited extent. But as a manager, you'd run the risk of having one of your reporters end up in a situation like the group of us did over the past few days. But thankfully, it all worked out peacefully and I'd have to thank the Red Cross for arranging cars to take us out of the Rixos today.

SIEGEL: Well, Missy Ryan of Reuters, thanks for talking with us...

RYAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: ...about your ordeal. Missy Ryan was in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli. Now she has moved to the Corinthia Hotel in Libya.

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