Egypt: ABC News Reporter Brian Hartman Threatened With Beheading

Attacks on foreign press growing during Egyptian uprising.

ByABC News
February 3, 2011, 1:06 PM

Feb. 3, 2011— -- A group of angry Egyptian men carjacked an ABC News crew and threatened to behead them today in the latest and most menacing attack on foreign reporters trying to cover the anti-government uprising.

Producer Brian Hartman, cameraman Akram Abi-hanna and two other ABC News employees were surrounded on a crowded road that leads from Cairo's airport to the city's downtown area.

While ABC News and other press agencies had been taking precautions to avoid volatile situations, the road to the airport had been a secure route until today. One of their two vehicles was carrying cameras and transmission equipment strapped to the roof, indicating they were foreign journalists.

Hartman says it was only through the appeal of Abi-hanna, who is Lebanese and a veteran ABC cameraman, that they were saved from being killed or severely beaten.

"We thought we were goners," Hartman said later. "We absolutely thought we were doomed."

Word of their harrowing ordeal came in a Twitter message from Hartman that stated, "Just escaped after being carjacked at a checkpoint and driven to a compound where men surrounded the car and threatened to behead us."

"The men released us only after our camera man appealed to the generous spirit of the Egyptian people, hugging and kissing an elder," he added in a subsequent tweet.

Watch a special hour-long edition of "Nightline" with Christiane Amanpour from Egypt tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET

Minutes after receiving news that Hartman had been safely released, ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour and her team were surrounded and interrogated by a threatening crowd in Cairo when they were en route to the presidential palace to interview Mubarak and Vice President Omar Suleiman. A rock was thrown through the car's windshield, shattering glass on the occupants.

For Complete Coverage of the Crisis in Egypt, Featuring Exclusive Reporting From Christiane Amanpour, Click Here

The alarm was sent back to ABC News headquarters in Cairo in a series of quick comments during a phone call. "We're in trouble on the bridge," was all that was initially said. The bridge is on the same road where Hartman and Abi-hanna were carjacked.

Moments later, the ABC News staffer said, "They're surrounding us."

Then cryptically, "We have to go."

Amanpour and her team were allowed to proceed, but it was the second time in two days that her team has been targeted by groups of men angry with foreign coverage of the demonstrations that are demanding President Hosni Mubarak end his 30-year rule by stepping down immediately.

Foreign news reporters have increasingly become targets of the attacks in Cairo as the Mubarak government teeters and over 100 reporters, including CNN's Anderson Cooper and CBS anchor Katie Couric, have been menaced, forced off the road, shoved against fences, and physically assaulted. A Greek reporter was stabbed in the leg.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned the "systematic targeting" of journalists in Egypt, and the U.S. State Department described it as a "concerted campaign to intimidate."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured the Egyptian government in a news conference today that it "must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists' ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world."

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, "Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world's worst oppressors."