On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working as the chief International correspondent for CNN and also doing stories for CBS’ “60 Minutes.” That day I was in Sierra Leone, West Africa, shooting a story for “60 Minutes.”
The story was about the child victims of the barbaric rebel movement there who stole children from their parents, branded, and cut and drugged them into fighting with the rebels.
As word of the 9/11 attacks started filtering out my CNN producer was desperately trying to reach me. Our CNN bosses wanted me on the story immediately. But Sierra Leone was virtually cut off from the world — only spotty cell phone coverage and the airport was closed because of the war.
But CNN and ’60 Minutes” arranged to have me airlifted out of there on a helicopter and I finally got to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, several hours later. The airport manager took me to his private home to watch CNN coverage being broadcast around the world.
It was the first time I was seeing those dreadful images. My blood ran cold and my mind raced with the implications of what I was seeing.
Boarding the plane that night back to my base in Europe, the most extraordinary thing happened: The pilot stepped out of the cockpit shortly before we took off. He addressed all of us passengers and said: “Look around you, look at the person in the seat next to you”, he said. “If you notice or feel anything wrong, alert us immediately before we take off”.
It was a terrifying moment.
I covered the initial few days in Europe and scored the exclusive first interviews with Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, France’s president and afterward moved immediately to Pakistan for the first and exclusive interview with President Musharraf. I stayed in Pakistan and beat my competition into Kabul, Aghanistan, with fall of Taliban.
Just before I arrived in Kabul, I scored the first and exclusive interview with Hamid Karzai before he even became president. I had the first and exclusive “tour” around Mullah Omar’s compound in Kandahar area after he fled.