The fear and uncertainty ended for Chance and other journalists at the Rixos al Nasr Hotel in Tripoli late Wednesday when forces loyal to deposed Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi released them and walked away after five tense days of confinement.
Among those set free was the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the District’s former delegate in Congress, who apparently was in Tripoli hoping to arrange peace negotiations. Chance said Fauntroy, 78, was among those who safely left the hotel in a convoy arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The captives — most of whom represented international news organizations — were barred from leaving the hotel by about a dozen young men who stood guard in the Rixos’s marble lobby and roamed its corridors armed with assault rifles. Food and water dwindled over the course of the ordeal, forcing the captives to ration whatever they could scavenge from the hotel’s stocks. Air conditioning was intermittent, as was electricity, cutting off the journalists’ contact with the world outside.
The Libyan guards’ isolation was apparent, too; they appeared to believe their country was still controlled by Gaddafi even after rebels had stormed his compound about a mile from the Rixos.
While officials from the Red Cross tried to broker an end to the stalemate from outside the hotel, CNN producer Jomana Karadsheh tried to reason with her captors inside. Karadsheh, a Jordanian, told the men in Arabic that Gaddafi’s 42-year regime was crumbling.
She also told one of them, “I really miss my family and want to see them,” she said on CNN on Wednesday. The guard, who had told Karadsheh about his own family, “had tears in his eyes at that moment. I sat with him and told him things are changing out there. I said, ‘You have to think of your kids. You have to let us go.’ It was a slow process, a messy one.”
The reporters, many of whom wore body armor and helmets, left the hotel around 4:30 p.m. Tripoli time in the company of Red Cross officials. They were driven through rebel checkpoints — one a mere 150 meters from the hotel — and taken to another hotel, the Corinthia, in a safe area. They were reunited with friends and fellow journalists amid hugs and tears.
Fauntroy, a longtime civil rights activist, retired two years ago as pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood. He remains a member of the church. A church employee said she had no information about his condition, but Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who succeeded Fauntroy as the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said in a statement that Fauntroy is expected to leave Libya soon.