Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is waging a campaign of intimidation against journalists and suspected opponents of his regime, according to Libyans and human rights groups.
In recent weeks, several journalists have disappeared, been detained or faced mock executions. Over the weekend, an Al Jazeera cameraman became the first journalist to be killed since the start of the conflict in Libya last month.
Unidentified gunmen killed Ali Hassan al-Jaber and wounded his colleague in an ambush near the rebel-controlled eastern city of Benghazi.
“The identity of those behind this outrage is still unknown,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
He added that Al Jazeera has been subjected to “sustained invective” by pro-Gadhafi forces for its coverage of the Libyan conflict.
Meanwhile, Col. Gadhafi’s forces conducted a series of airstrikes near the city of Adjabiya on Monday.
Said Buhlfaia, a resident of Adjabiya, said there had been “a very extreme attack” in the north and west of the city.
“The regime is using the navy, army and air force against us. People are being killed and injured each minute,” Mr. Buhlfaia told The Washington Times in a phone interview, barely an hour after an airstrike. “They have an air force and heavy weapons. We have only Allah.”
In New York, the U.N. Security Council was split on the question of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said key questions on how such a zone would be implemented have not been answered.
Despite heavy bombing, Adjabiya was still under the control of anti-Gadhafi forces. “A lot of people will die to defend this city,” Mr. Buhlfaia said.
A source close to the opposition’s National Transitional Council, in Benghazi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing security concerns, said that contrary to claims by the Gadhafi regime, the rebels also retain control of Brega and parts of Ras Lanouf, key oil terminals on the Mediterranean coast.
In Az Zawiya, residents did not have water or electricity after fierce fighting in which pro-Gadhafi forces had seized control of the city from the rebels.
Earlier this month, three British Broadcasting Corp. journalists who were held by the army and internal security were subjected to mock execution. All three had official permission to work in Libya.
The Libyan Foreign Ministry also confirmed last week that Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a correspondent for London’s Guardian newspaper, has been detained.
In interviews with The Times, Libyans spoke of friends and family members who have vanished overnight.
“There has been a wave of kidnappings. In Tripoli, anyone from the east has been arrested or threatened,” said a resident of Benghazi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has family in Tripoli. Kidnappings have also been reported from other cities, including Misurata.
Some detainees have apparently been subjected to torture, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The fear in Tripoli is palpable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The arrests and disappearances in Tripoli have cowed many who were peacefully protesting the government,” Ms. Whitson said. “It shows how much the government headed by Gadhafi is relying on intimidation.”