Video: Journalists freed from hotel in Tripoli

Image: Jomana Karadsheh and Matthew Chance from CNN are evacuated by the International Red Cross from the Rixos hotel in Tripoli
Paul Hackett  /  Reuters
Jomana Karadsheh, left, a producer for CNN and Matthew Chance, senior international correspondent for CNN, are evacuated by the International Red Cross from the Rixos hotel in Tripoli on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/24/2011 6:32:35 PM ET 2011-08-24T22:32:35

A Baltimore writer escaped from a Libyan prison Wednesday shortly after dozens of journalists were freed from a Tripoli hotel.

However, four Italian journalists were kidnapped outside the capital. Officials said they were safe.

The mother of freelance journalist Matthew VanDyke, 31, told NBC station WBAL that her son escaped from the Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli, where he had been held since March, a month after arriving in Libya.

The State Department confirmed earlier this month that he was being held by the Libyan government, but details of what led to his detainment were not clear.

The two spoke by telephone Wednesday, and Sharon VanDyke said her son sounded fine.

"He sounds just like himself. He said. 'Hi Mom,' " Sharon VanDyke told WBAL.

Matthew VanDyke had been held in solitary confinement, but fellow prisoners helped him escape, she said. He"heard some noise and heard men coming to his cell, and he thought he might be executed, but they were Libyan prisoners who had escaped and took him with them," Sharon VanDyke said.

While confined, prisoners with radios would "chant" the news to him, so he was somewhat aware of what was taking place in Libya, she said.

Matthew Van Dyke, 31, was writing a book about his travels in the Arab world.

Freed from Rixos Hotel
Also Wednesday, international journalists were freed from the Rixos Hotel after being held for five days by armed men loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The dozens of journalists from the Rixos were taken in Red Cross cars and vans to another Tripoli hotel, where they hugged friends and colleagues, many crying.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was talking to loyalist forces about the journalists' safety on Wednesday when they were suddenly informed that Gadhafi's men were ready to release them.

"We were able to gather everyone in four cars, no problem," said George Comninos, the Red Cross' head of delegation in Tripoli. "Of course, it was still a tense situation."

CNN correspondent Matthew Chance posted on Twitter shortly after he and journalists from several other news organizations left the hotel in a car: "#Rixos crisis ends. All journalists are out! #rixos."

Later, he told CNN: "We’ve got all the journalists into these four cars plus a civilian car and we are now driving through the deserted streets of Tripoli to our freedom essentially." He said the Red Cross helped the journalists get through checkpoints.

“We’ve been living in fear for the past five days because we’ve been being held against our will by these crazy gunmen,” he said, according to CNN.

BBC journalists also confirmed they have been freed.

Story: Rebels battle Gadhafi die-hards as support crumbles

Matthew Price of BBC News said of the Gadhafi-loyal guards at the Rixos: "It was firmly their belief that if we went outside of the hotel, the rebels would capture us, kill us and rape the women."

Chance said the journalists' captivity ended when the guards were told about the changing situation in Tripoli and realized the regime might be over. A guard told the journalists, “Look, we’re not going to stop you from leaving anymore,” Chance reported.

Story: Journalists imprisoned in $400-a-night Tripoli hotel

The journalists then were able to arrange their transportation from the hotel, Chance said, according to CNN.

Journalists clad in helmets
An Associated Press reporter who entered the hotel earlier Wednesday found the journalists wearing helmets and flak jackets, clustered on the second floor, where a guard said they weren't permitted to leave.

Other journalists showed up at the gate, including a group in a car decorated with a rebel flag, and were forced out of the car and into the hotel, where they joined the dozens who had been there for days.

Those who had been held captive inside the hotel described running battles in the area, and intermittent electricity.

They were sleeping huddled on the floor in one wing of the hotel to protect each other for fear of people being attacked in their rooms, their belongings packed in case of need for a sudden departure.

Several said the first days of their captivity featured some of the most frightening moments.

""We were in the dining room making a big pot of tea when a sniper put two rounds through the window," said Fox News videojournalist Paul Roubicek.

He said that at other times the captives couldn't go outside because snipers were shooting at them and at their satellite equipment on the roof.

CNN journalist Jomana Karadsheh said the captives were held by 15 armed men until Tuesday, when the numbers dwindled to two. Some of the journalists' captors held impromptu press conferences describing their plans for a massive final battle around the Rixos, she said.

"Once I got into the car I couldn't stop crying," she said.

Save for the two guards, all the hotel employees had fled and the journalists were cooking for themselves. One guard expressed surprise when told most of the city was in rebel hands. Parked in front of the hotel was the bus once used by government minders to ferry journalists around the city — on its windshield was a huge poster of Gadhafi — one of the only ones apparently left in the city.

Italian journalists kidnapped
Four Italian journalists were kidnapped and their driver killed, apparently by Libyan regime loyalists, as they traveled down a highway to Tripoli Wednesday, the Italian foreign ministry said.

The newspaper journalists included two from Milan daily Corriere della Sera, one from Turin's La Stampa and one from Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Catholic bishops Conference, the ministry said.

It said the abductions occurred on a stretch of highway between Zawiya, a town 30 miles west of Tripoli, and the Libyan capital.

Avvenire's bureau in Rome said its reporter, Claudio Monici, called the paper's central newsroom in Milan to say all four journalists were OK and that they had been taken to a house but that it wasn't clear exactly where. Monici had arrived in Libya Tuesday.

"Monici said 'We're OK. Call our families. Call the foreign ministry. Call our papers," Avvenire's foreign news editor, Fabio Carminati, told Sky TG24 TV. Carminati adding that Monici's voice sounded strong.

Monici told his desk "'We were roughed up, they stole our possessions, our money, our phones,'" Carminati said, summing up the call of a few minutes. The editor said that Monici was allowed to use a phone by members of a family of the house they were taken to.

The four are being held in an apartment in Tripoli, said Guido de Sanctis, the Italian consul in Benghazi, who was able to speak to one of the journalists by phone.

"They are fine, even if everything happened in a very difficult atmosphere," de Sanctis told Reuters.

"They have been allowed to call Italy and they have been allowed to get calls from us. They were given food to eat when the Ramadan fast was broken."

Italy's journalist association identified the other abducted journalists as Elisabetta Rosaspina and Giuseppe Saracina of Corriere della Sera and Domenico Quirico of La Stampa.

Journalists wounded
Information also emerged on Wednesday that two French journalists were wounded in the fighting around Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli.

France 2 television said its French cameraman, Bruno Girodon, was shot on Wednesday. He was not in grave danger and will be repatriated, France 2 said on its website.

Paris Match Magazine confirmed on its website that French photographer Alvaro Canovas was shot in the thigh on Tuesday. It said Canovas was in stable condition and returning to France.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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