BY INSI

TRAVEL ADVISORY: Tripoli, Libya as at 13/05/13

The security situation in Libya remains volatile despite the conflict ending there in 2011.

Intermittent fighting has broken out between rival ethnic and tribal groups across the country, and last month multiple kidnappings of media workers by armed militia were reported. The killing of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi last September means that international visitors are focusing on security more than ever before.

Weapons left over from the recent conflict are available on the streets and security forces are struggling to restore and maintain order in the country. This makes Libya a precarious place for journalists and media workers, as the security situation may often be unpredictable.

INSI is issuing the following travel advisory for journalists working in Tripoli.

Planning and preparation

Tripoli is deemed far safer than most other capital cities in Africa. One of INSI’s sources on the ground told us that “Tripoli is safe, so long as normal security precautions are taken”.

However, this is all relative to your experience and training and most people who work in Libya will agree that as the country remains unstable, travellers must exercise caution and be prepared for anything.

“Normal security precautions” means starting with a robust assignment outline and risk assessment prior to travel, so you are aware of the risks and have mitigated against them properly.

A Hostile Environment course with medical training should also be attended prior to travel and good planning and preparation needs to be carried out. Ask yourself, who will meet you, where will you stay, how will you get around, what will you do if you get sick or have an accident? There is no state of the art medical care in Libya and you are very much on your own to deal with any emergency.

If you are unsure of any of this, please consult INSI’s “Planning and preparation for safe travel overseas” advisory.

INSI advises that you research the latest security situation prior to travel and factor this into your planning. You may wish to consider registering with your embassy, so if the situation deteriorates you can be located, especially if you are travelling on your own.

Threats to journalists

The threats in Libya are varied and dependent on where you are travelling. Protests are predicted to turn violent in the near future, and good contingency planning is essential to stay safe during these.

Protests by anti-Gaddafi supporters are likely in areas where there are ministries. On 28 April a large group of heavily armed men surrounded the foreign ministry in Tripoli demanding that officials from the Colonel Gaddafi era be banned from the new administration. At least 20 vehicles loaded with anti-aircraft guns blocked the roads around the ministry, while armed men tried to storm the ministry of interior and the state news agency.

Car bombs against foreign embassies are infrequent but still a threat (most recently against the French embassy in April). IEDs are now also being seen in Benghazi; a series of bomb attacks have taken place on police stations in Libya’s second city over the past couple of weeks. Arrest and kidnap are prevalent and a case of sexual assault against British aid workers at a Libyan army checkpoint has recently been reported.

Journalists should be aware that crime levels are generally reported to be high all over Libya and adequate precautions must be taken to secure money and valuables. Keep your equipment out of sight when travelling.

Covering protests and demonstrations in Tripoli

There appear to be continued planned protests in Tripoli, and these may result in civil unrest. If you do not intend to cover the protests, you should factor in their planned locations so you can move around the city without hindrance and avoid getting caught up in the crowds. All journalists should have good local sources of information to be able to plan their journeys to avoid these disruptions.

If you plan to cover the protests, then plan your assignment with care. Ensure you are aware of the types of weaponry that the security forces use and take personal protective equipment to counter the use of tear gas. Ensure you know where you are at all times, and have an exit route and good communications with your drivers. Ensure that you have an Arabic speaker with you and work as a team to protect your backs. INSI's advice for covering demonstrations and other civil disorders is available here.  

Threats and physical attacks against media staff during protests are common, particularly against local journalists. Be aware of this if you are working with local journalists.

Any international media workers covering high profile events, such as protests or gatherings, should be aware that their presence could raise tensions and provoke a violent reaction from some of those taking part. If you have a local fixer/driver ensure that their security is considered in your planning, as they may sometimes be targeted whilst working for you.

Although most events have thus far passed peacefully, the local situation can change quickly and you should have back up plans to deal with any emergency.

Driving in Tripoli

Driving is considered unsafe in Tripoli, as drivers are often reckless and dangerous on the roads. Car accidents are common and there is little assistance available if one happens. You will not receive any help from the police and there is no functioning ambulance service. You will have to help yourself, so know where the hospitals are.

Ensure you have a good driver or taxi driver and try to get a recommendation. INSI advises not to flag a taxi down in the street, as you never know who they are, or how good their driving is!

Accommodation

Because of the poor standard of driving, it is advisable to find accommodation near the city centre, if that is where you plan to be working. There is a range of good to adequate hotels in Tripoli. International hotels, like the Radisson or Corinthia, can cost approximately £200 per night, and there are some other lower budget choices. Security can sometimes be an issue in the budget hotels, so do consider this when planning your assignment.

Communications

INSI advises that you buy a local phone/SIM (take an unlocked phone with you) as soon as you arrive so that you have local communications. Consider taking a satphone with you if you plan to leave the cities or in case of emergency.

Advice on the ground

The situation in Tripoli changes on the daily basis. To ensure you have the latest up to date information, INSI advises that you make contact with local journalists on the ground prior to travel or security consultants who work there all the time to ensure that you get realistic appraisal of the latest security situation. This will allow you to consider all the threats before you write your risk assessment, and help you plan your assignment in the safest and most practical way. If you plan to travel to remote parts of the country, you should exercise extreme caution as it is possible that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other jihadist cells could extend their operations into southern Libya in the near future.


Photo: Security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb that targeted the French embassy wounding two French guards and causing extensive material damage in Tripoli, Libya, April 23 2013. (AP Photo/Abdul Majeed Forjani)

Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist anyone in the media to be prepared to work in Libya and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems, bodily harm or death in relation to this advice.

INSI has compiled this advisory with information from its contacts and sources on the ground in Tripoli, and would also like to thank Security Exchange 24 for their information.