Sky News reporter Mark Stone wrote this blog entry today on how Sky News discovered that the target NATO intended to hit in the Brega air strike several days ago was in fact a bunker as they said.
Reporting from Tripoli isn’t straight-forward. There are the obvious safety implications to consider, Mark Stone writes, but it goes to show how, even from inside the Rixos, the right contacts and social networking can go a long way.
On Saturday, we revealed that a guesthouse which the Libyans claimed was hit by a NATO bomb, killing religious leaders, had a bunker 6 to 8 metres from it.
This is how our ‘hotel-room’ journalism worked: On Friday morning a NATO airstrike hit a location in Brega, a town in eastern Libya.
The first I heard of it was when my news editor, Andy Marsh, rang me from London. He said that Libyan State TV (which we monitor from London) was reporting that a ‘large number of civilians have been killed by airstrike in Brega’. He asked me to check it out.
I phoned Moussa Ibrahim, the Libyan Government spokesman. He actually stays in the hotel. I couldn’t find him, but got him on the line.
“This is the most horrendous, terrible crime so far” he told me on the phone.
He explained to me how a group of Imams had been on a religious journey across Libya calling for peace. They’d been spending the night in a guesthouse in Brega.
It all sounded a bit odd – colleagues who have recently been in Brega tell me its a ghost town. The fighting has pushed all civilians out. So why would a group of Imams be there? Anyway – that was the government story so we reported it: “The Libyan government claims etc etc”.
I then spoke to my contacts at NATO.
“It was a command and control bunker”, my source insisted, adding that since they’d hit it, the ‘chatter’ coming from it had stopped.
Someone, it seemed, had got their story wrong. Was this a guest house? Or was it a bunker. The answer quickly became clear.
Remember – we haven’t yet left our hotel (which we’re not allowed to do anyway!)
Within an hour or so of the Brega air strike report, I began to get tweets from various Libyans who follow me.
They all suggested that they knew of a bunker in Brega, but didn’t know where it was. One of the tweets made some mention of a Dutch construction company being involved.
So I did something very simple, but seemingly rather effective. I typed “Brega Bunker Dutch” into Google.
I soon found an interview with an engineer called Freek Landmeter. It was in Dutch sadly. But with the help of followers on Twitter I soon had a translation.
Mr Landmeter had built a bunker in Brega in 1988. In the interview he gave the exact coordinates for the location of the bunker.
It was time to find the Libyan Government spokesman again. “Can I have the exact coordinates of the Brega guesthouse please Moussa?” I asked him.
“Of course. You must expose what NATO has done.” he said to me. He promised I’d have the coordinates by the morning.
He stuck to his word and the next morning, the coordinates were produced.
My colleague, cameraman Phil Hooper and I entered the two sets of coordinates into Google Earth.
The Libyan government guesthouse was just metres from the Dutch engineer’s bunker. (Guesthouse – purple pin in below image, Bunker – red pin).
Following a quick search on Twitter (and help from Emily Matthews, a deputy news editor in London) we had contacted and interviewed the engineer, Freek Landmeter, on Skype from his home in The Netherlands – and we still haven’t left our hotel. He confirmed all the details we needed.
Back to the Government spokesman. “Moussa, I have had a chat with a man who built a bunker in Brega in 1988. He has given me the coordinates for its location. They match the ones you have given me for your guesthouse.”
“I know nothing about bunkers in Brega but that is not the point. Religious leaders were killed in the horrendous attack,” he told me.
We’re now looking into whether those who died really were religious leaders.
Moussa Ibrahim insists they were, but there are discrepancies which we’re examining. I won’t go into the details now.
If they were religious leaders, then the incident is a tragedy for which NATO should accept responsibility.
But the Libyans still need to explain why religious leaders were invited to stay above one of Colonel Gaddafi’s command & control bunkers.
Read the full blog post here.