‘Our deep, dark secret – Anton was dead’

2011-05-28 15:13

Journalists with South African photographer Anton Hammerl during his last moments realised they had made a terrible mistake.

The three journalists – James ­Foley and Clare Morgana Gillis from the US and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo – this week ­recounted their capture on April 5, during which Hammerl was shot and left to die by Libyan troops.

On that fateful day the four ­journalists were travelling in a three-vehicle convoy with rebels on a road outside Brega.

At one point the four left the car to interview another group of rebels who said Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were close by, ­Foley recalled.

This was a critical error. They waited in the desert bush as the rebels had told them that Gaddafi’s troops were only 300 metres away.

Suddenly the rebel vehicles sped away, leaving the journalists stranded while vehicles carrying heavily armed Libyan soldiers ­firing machine guns approached.

“I quickly realised this wasn’t crossfire – they were firing directly at us,’’ said Foley, recounting how he pressed his body to the ground.

“I heard Anton shouting ‘Help, help’. I shouted ‘Anton are you OK?’. He responded, ‘No’.”

Foley said he jumped up with his hands in the air and shouted, ­“sahafi”, which means journalist in Arabic.

None of the journalists were armed. Hammerl only had two cameras strapped to his body.

The soldiers assaulted and struck them on the head with AK-47 assault rifles several times.

The soldiers threw Foley, Gillis and Brabo into the back of a pick-up and drove them to a house in Brega.

Hammerl was severely wounded and appeared to be dying, Foley said. The soldiers just left him there to die.

The three journalists soon realised they could not talk about Hammerl, fearing for their lives ­because the Libyan government only reported that Hammerl was missing in action. The Gaddafi ­regime lied to the South African authorities repeatedly.

So the journalists kept their mouths shut for the next 44 days, afraid that speaking out might jeopardise their chances of ­freedom.

“There was this deep, dark ­secret that Anton was dead,’’ said Foley.

“We decided we couldn’t talk about it because it would be ­dangerous if they knew what we knew,’’ he said.

Only after they left Libya on May 18 did they tell the world that ­Hammerl has died six weeks ­before.

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