Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Van Dyke Phones Home

American writer from Md. who joined Libyan rebel fighters returning to US after Gadhafi’s fall

By Associated Press, Saturday, November 5, 2011

LINTHICUM, Md. — An American writer is returning home Saturday after spending more than five months in solitary confinement in Libyan prisons, then joining the rebel forces who opposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Earlier this year, 32-year-old Matthew VanDyke was working in Baltimore on a book and film about a motorcycle trip across the Middle East and southeast Asia when he decided to witness the uprising in Libya. He disappeared during a day trip to Brega in March
Although he wasn’t heard from for months, VanDyke’s mother, Sharon, and his girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, held strong to their belief that VanDyke would return. Sharon VanDyke even traveled to Turkey with photos of her son in hopes of speaking to Libyan diplomats in hopes they could work to free him.

Sharon VanDyke and Fischer enlisted Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersburger, a Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who held a news conference in May to call attention to the situation. Libyan officials initially denied VanDyke was being held, but in July they acknowledged he was in custody.

When the infamous Abu Salim prison in Tripoli was bombed in August, fellow prisoners broke open VanDyke’s cell and he escaped. The fleeing prisoners made their way to a compound, where he was able to borrow a phone to call home.

VanDyke recounted his time in prison in an interview with The Associated Press after his escape. He said he was captured in an ambush by government troops in March in the town of Brega. He said he was then held in solitary confinement but was never told what he was accused of or if he would be released.

VanDyke said he’d remain in Libya until Gadhafi fell from power and he found out whether friends safely made it through the fighting. He later joined rebel fighters and now, on Facebook, he describes himself as a soldier in the Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade of the National Liberation Army of Libya. His mother has said she was nervous about him fighting, but supported his decision.

By Steve Kilar and Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
5:18 p.m. EDT, October 23, 2011

Matthew VanDyke — the 32-year-old Baltimorean who was jailed inLibya for nearly six months and then stayed on to join the rebels seeking to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi — plans to come home "in a couple of weeks," said his mother, Sharon VanDyke, who lives in South Baltimore.

She said that she spoke with her son for a few minutes around 9:45 a.m. Sunday, which was 3:45 in the afternoon in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

"They were having a big celebration today in Martyrs' Square," she said.

Gadhafi, who took over the nation in a 1969 coup, was captured and killed last week.
VanDyke will probably fly back to the United States from Cairo, his mother said.

He called from the Radisson hotel in Tripoli, where he stayed Saturday night, she said, adding that he previously had been at a farm outside the city.

Libyan rebels have supplied her son with clothing, lodging and food, as well as a Jeep, she said.
"He sounds fine," she said, adding that she was no longer concerned that his confinement took a psychological toll on him.

"The first couple of days [after his release from prison] he sounded very tired, his voice was shaky. [Now] he sounds fine. He's Matthew," she said.

VanDyke told his mother that since his release from jail, he has been involved in about 40 rebel "engagements" in which gunfire was exchanged, she said.

"He was on the front lines," she said, adding that before going to Libya her son had never so much as picked up a gun. "He was in a militia brigade."

His mother said that before leaving Libya, VanDyke wants to go back to Sirte — the town that saw the final siege in the fight to oust Gadhafi.

VanDyke was in Sirte the day of Gadhafi's capture, she said, adding that as far as she knew he did not witness what happened to the dictator.

Her son also plans to return to Benghazi, east of Tripoli, to pick up some belongings stored there, she said. One of the items VanDyke wants to reclaim before returning to the United States is a hard drive containing digital video footage, she said.

VanDyke left for Libya in February to lend support to friends he'd made on a previous trip and to witness the country's uprising for a book he planned to write.

He also hoped to use video footage from the trip for adocumentary, said VanDyke's longtime girlfriend, Lauren Fisher, a Baltimore elementary school teacher. Fisher also spoke to VanDyke Sunday morning.

In the next few weeks, VanDyke will be gathering more footage and notes on the aftermath of the revolution, Fisher said. He also wants to see several people before he leaves, she said, adding that those visits are taking longer to coordinate than expected.

"I'm sure he'll be back in the next couple of weeks," Fisher said. "And I'm looking forward to seeing him."


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