Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Rebel fighters react after a rocket strike by Kadafi loyalist forces at the front lines.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters run through a cloud of smoke and dust after a rocket strike by Kadafi loyalist forces.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters make their way to the front.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter is carried to an ambulance after accidentally shooting himself.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A trio of field doctors walk arm in arm to their ambulance.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

As directed by the Koran, a rebel fighter washes his face, hands and feet before praying.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters pause to pray.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters swarm around a vehicle ridden by Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis, who made an unannounced visit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Col. Mohammed Hamis, front, and Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis are swarmed by rebel fighters as they make an unannounced visit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters dance, chant and fire weapons into the air after being buoyed by a surprise visit from Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis greets rebel fighters. Younis, a former interior minister and ex-commander of the special forces, has been challenged by another former Kadafi confidant, Khalifa Hefter, as leader of the rebel forces.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters dance, chant and fire weapons into the air during Younis' visit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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A close call near the front line in Libya

With my Libya assignment ending in two days, I had a very close call Friday, April Fools’ Day, near Port Brega.

I was sitting in the back of a car as a Times reporter, a driver and I pushed further toward the scene of the fighting. I heard a loud thump behind us, and a shock wave enveloped the vehicle, catching us all totally by surprise. I looked out the left rear passenger window and saw a plume of smoke and dirt very nearby. A rocket out of nowhere, with absolutely no warning.

“I told you we should not go on!” the driver screamed, spinning the car around and weaving frantically through a crowd of vehicles and rebels gathered on the road.  “I told you!”

He was absolutely right. It’s April 1 and, before the blast, two very strange things happened.

At about 3 p.m., I was standing on a rocky knoll when a single shot rang out. Up the road, rebel fighters crowded around a parked car, talking excitedly. A comrade trying to clear a jammed assault rifle had accidentally shot himself.

I ran to the scene and saw his limp body sprawled awkwardly on the ground. He wasn’t moving and his eyes had rolled up into his head as several men rushed him to a nearby ambulance.  I knew I was photographing a dead man.

I’ve had this nagging feeling that something like this was going to happen sometime. A few days ago, a magazine reporter standing near me was nearly shot in the face by a rebel who was also trying to free a jammed weapon. The rebel army is untrained and undisciplined — and I’m surprised more people haven’t been accidentally maimed or killed.

Before this thought could sink in, a convoy of three SUVs rolled up the road. Riding in the lead vehicle was Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis, the nominal leader of the rebel army. The troops greeted him like a rock star, thrusting their arms through the open window, hoping to shake the general’s hand.

I have gone to the front lines almost every day over the last five weeks, and I have never seen Younis anywhere near the fighting. However, I had seen him early on in an office in Benghazi, sitting behind a very large desk, surrounded by would-be soldiers smoking cigarettes and watching television.

Port Brega, Port Brega, Port Brega. The name has been drilled into my head over the last 39 days. To most people in Los Angeles, it’s a speck on the map that they will never see.

The car rode very roughly as we drove away from the scene of the blast. We got out and saw that a piece of shrapnel had punctured a large hole in the right rear tire’s sidewall. But there wasn’t time to change it. We had to get away and drove the next five miles on shredded rubber and the rim.

The odds stack up against you the longer you stay. I truly believe that — and Libya has to be the most dangerous place I’ve ever been.

I haven’t been back to this part of the world since my last trip to Iraq almost seven years ago. But for some reason, I talked myself into it. I thought this assignment would be about demonstrations for democracy, a little rock throwing, some tear gas and maybe an occasional gunshot or two. Wouldn’t you know it; a war went and broke out on me.

1 Comment

  1. January 30, 2012, 3:18 pm

    Interesting and disturbing footnote: about four months after this was posted, Abdul Fatah Younis was himself assassinated by a small group of fellow militiamen under mysterious circumstances, possibly in retaliation for some of his actions during his previous career with the Gaddafi regime.

    By: Colin Howell

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