A war photographer for the New York Times, the only woman in a group of four journalists captured in Libya last week, said that she was sexual assaulted and threatened with death by Libyan soldiers while in captivity.
Lynsey Addario and her colleagues were released into the custody of the Turkish Embassy in Libya Monday, after a six-day ordeal. The team was detained last Tuesday when pro-Gadhafi forces stopped their car at a checkpoint near the war-torn city of Ajdabiya.
The soldiers pulled them out of the car and the group tried to make a run for it. The soldiers quickly caught them and considered shooting them, they told the Times. But the soldiers instead chose to detain them after realizing they were Americans.
Addario's shoelaces were removed and a soldier used them to bind her ankles, she said. Once immobile, the soldier punched her in the face, laughing as he struck her.
"Then I started crying and he was laughing more," she told the Times.
The soldier then groped her breasts, setting off two days of disturbing sexual assaults by a series of armed men, she said.
"There was a lot of groping," she told the paper. "Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes."
As the fighting in Ajdabiya died down, the group was transported out of town. On the way, one soldier threatened to decapitate photographer Tyler Hicks; another stroked Addario's head and threatened her with death.
"He was caressing my head in this sick way, this tender way, saying: 'You're going to die tonight. You're going to die tonight,'" she said.
Addario and Hicks, along with Times Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid and reporter Stephen Farrell, who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and rescued by British commandoes, were slowly transported to Tripoli.
They passed through pro-Gadhafi checkpoints along the way. At each stop, new batches of soldiers beat them up, they told the Times. They spent one night in the vehicle in which they were being driven and another in a prison cell before being flown to Tripoli Thursday, where they were held at a safe house.
It took three more days in Tripoli to negotiate their release, according to the Times.
The Times journalists' ordeal spotlights the dangers of covering the unfolding civil war in Libya. Thirteen reporters and photographers are missing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The additional sexual abuse Addario suffered highlights the additional risks women face while covering the recent events in North Africa and the Middle East.
CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan was sexually abused in February by an Egyptian crowd during the celebration in Cairo's Tarir Square during the celebration of President Hosni Mubarak's decision to step down.
"In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew," CBS said in a statement at the time. "She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers."