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May 20. 2011 1:15PM

Rochester journalist says he saw colleague die

ROCHESTER - A journalist held by government forces in Libya for more than 40 days watched his colleague die just prior to his capture, according to his employer.

James Foley, whose family lives in Rochester, was freed Wednesday following a court hearing in Tripoli, Libya's capital, and crossed the border into Tunisia on Thursday night, the first step in getting him back to the United States.

GlobalPost, the Boston-based news agency he was working for, reported that Foley and fellow reporter Clare Gillis were traveling with South African journalist Anton Hammerl outside the town of Brega when a group of Libyan troops drove toward them firing AK-47s.

"It all happened in a split second," Foley told GlobalPost during an interview in Tunisia. "We thought we were in the crossfire. But, eventually, we realized they were shooting at us. You could see and hear the bullets hitting the ground near us."

Hammerl was the closest to the soldiers and was shot during the attack. Foley told GlobalPost that he, Gillis and their companion, Spanish photographer Manu Brabo, surrendered and as they were taken away they saw Hammerl's body, with a stomach wound, lying lifelessly in the sand.

Hammerl's fate was unknown until Thursday, when Foley and Gillis communicated news of his death to his family. They were captured and he was killed on April 5.

"From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton," read a statement from Hammerl's family posted on Facebook. "It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton's fate all along and chose to cover it up."

Foley had been shuffled from one detention center to another with little information making its way out of Libya during his capture.

His parents, John and Diane, waged a campaign in the media and with government officials to bring him home. They spoke to him by phone when he was freed.

"We were overjoyed to get a telephone call from Jim shortly after his release today in Tripoli," Diane Foley said in a statement Wednesday. "He told me he was well and looking forward to coming home. We are extraordinarily grateful to the many people who have worked on his release and we hope to have him home as soon as possible."


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