A Columbia University student with family in Libya says three friends have disappeared and his loved ones in Tripoli are living in fear for their lives amid a violent crackdown to end protests aimed at toppling the country's autocratic leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
Several times throughout the day, Yuseff Najib checks his phone and email for the latest update from Libya.
"They're going into people's homes,” said Najib, a senior at Columbia. “There have been rapes, there have been kidnappings and murder. Three of my friends have been kidnapped and I don’t believe I’ll ever see them again."
Because there are fears the regime is listening to phone conversations and reading emails, Najib’s calls to his family in Tripoli are short and perfunctory.
“We basically just call each other and ask, ‘Are you okay?’ and then we hang up right away because we do not want to draw attention to them.”
Gadhafi's crackdown has been the harshest by any Arab leader thus far, as a wave of protests have toppled the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia. Amateur video posted on sites like YouTube show soldiers and pro-government forces attacking protesters in the street.
“My family told me,” said Najib, holding back tears. “That they are pretty sure they are going to die so I should speak out on their behalf. And their message is to beg for help. From anyone who will listen, any world power who can stop Gadhafi from killing everyone.”
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama broke his silence on Libya and condemned the violence but did not call for Gadhafi's resignation.
“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous,” said Obama. “So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters. This violence must stop.”
Thousands of foreigners, including Americans, have packed the airport in Tripoli, struggling to leave. Najib's family tried to flee last weekend, but were not able to. As rebel forces get closer to Tripoli, Najib fears the bloodshed will only get worse.
“Thousands will continue to die,” said Najib. “And he will massacre the country before he gives up power.”