Alassema TV’s Tripoli office attacked, journalists abducted or unaccounted for

New York, August 26, 2014–The Tripoli offices of Libya’s privately owned station Alassema TV was raided and set on fire by Islamist groups on Sunday, the station reported. Several journalists are unaccounted for, the station said, and the Libyan Center for Press Freedom and Libya International Channel reported that Alaseema staff members had been abducted.

Alassema TV said it had lost communication with staff working the night shift during Sunday’s attacks, and could not say who had gone missing or how many. Many staff members from the station have gone into hiding, an Alassema staff member, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told CPJ. Local press freedom group the Libyan Center for Press Freedom reported, without citing sources, that four journalists from Alassema TV were abducted in Sunday’s attacks and two were later released. It did not identify any of the journalists.

Today, Libya International Channel reported on its Facebook page that three journalists and media workers affiliated with Alassema TV were abducted on Monday from different locations around Tripoli and Benghazi. It identified them as Hossam Mari, an Egyptian communication engineer; Saad Zaqup, an Egyptian editor; and Tariq al-Drissi, a Libyan graphic designer.

“Political tensions in Libya are spiking, but attacking the messenger is not going to ease them,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on all sides in the conflict to stop attacking news outlets and to release any journalists they are holding.”

The attacks on Alassema came after the station reported that the new Libyan parliament in the eastern city of Tubruq had labelled two warring Islamist groups–Fajr Libya from Tripoli and Ansar al- Sharia from Benghazi–as terrorist organizations, according to news reports. Islamist militias have accused Egypt and the UAE of helping Libyan army forces make strikes against their positions. Senior American officials confirmed that the airstrikes had taken place, according to The New York Times today.

No group has claimed responsibility for abductions or the attacks on the station. Alassema TV cited witnesses on its Facebook page who said Fajr Libya (Libya’s Dawn) and another group, Abdul Rauf Kara, were behind it.

The station said that at 2 a.m., Fajr Libya broke in and smashed equipment, and at 5 a.m., the Abdul Rauf Kara militia burned the office and vehicles used by the TV crews. Photos of the attack against the Tripoli offices were shared on social media.

In another attack, militia fired rocket-propelled grenades at the home of station owner Jomaa al-Osta, according to the Alassema TV Facebook page and the staff member, who couldn’t say whether al-Osta or his family were hurt. No group has claimed responsibility. The news channel said Ghorfet Thowar Libya (Libya’s Revolution Room) had carried out the attack.

The channel said in a statement that the attack on its Tripoli office would not affect its operation because it has a backup broadcast signal and offices in east Libya.

Alassema, which is known for its criticism of Islamist political groups, has been attacked repeatedly in recent months, according to CPJ research. Three Alassema TV journalists were abducted by an unknown group earlier this month. Correspondent Mohammed Abd al-Raziq Hussein, cameraman Ahmed al-Alwani, and editor Hamad Ahmed al-Jahd, were kidnapped while covering a demonstration in support of the Libyan army on August 1, according to CPJ research. All three were released on August 6, the station reported. Al-Osta’s house was also attacked in July by unidentified men using homemade explosives.

The latest attacks were carried out after militant groups captured Tripoli’s international airport on Saturday after a month of fighting with pro-government forces, according to news reports. Abdul Rauf Kara militia last week took control of the state-owned TV channel Al-Wataniya, according to the government, which closed the station.

Media workers from other Libyn stations have also been abducted. Osama Rashid and Mohammed al-Saaidi, directors for the state-run Libya International Channel Television, were abducted on August 19 by an unknown militant group at a checkpoint in Janzour, west of Tripoli, according to news reports and the Libyan Center for Press Freedom. Rashid was released on August 21, according to Libyan Television Network. It is unclear whether al-Saaidi has been released.