Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Irish & Aussie Rebels in Libya

Irish-Libyan rebel fighter Husam Najair speaks to reporters at a checkpoint near Tijin in Western Libya.

Photo by Bob Strong, Reuters

Irishman fighting with Libyan rebels - Last Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2011, 11:57

As Libyan rebels braced for more desert fighting in the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, one of them explained battlefield dangers - in a thick Dublin accent.

"They have ammunition to burn while we are running out of ammunition," said Irishman Husam Najjair, who, after a decade abroad, is taking part in a new offensive against government forces in the plains below Libya's Western Mountains.

Once a building contractor, he now belongs to The Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, one of the rebel forces struggling to end Muammar Gadafy's decades-old autocratic rule.

The son of an Irish mother and Libyan father, he decided to give up the good life after reports alleging that government troops were committing atrocities to quell Libya's uprising.

"I heard there were rapes and oppression. I could not just sit there like a couch potato just watching it on the news," said Najjair, holding a rifle he bought himself.

Mr Najjair came to Libya for a family wedding in January - his first visit in 10 years - and stayed on to fight after the February 17th revolt began. Friends back home were shocked.

Like many rebels, he had a crash course in warfare, mostly on the job.

Mr Najjair has become an insurgent-of-all-trades. Sometimes he gathers intelligence. Or he uses Facebook to try and promote the rebels, who drive pick-up trucks with sand glued on their frames for camouflage and are mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

"I am also a sniper," said Mr Najjair, who was born in Dublin. "It's not rocket science. You just hold your breath and shoot."

Adjusting to his new life has meant an upheaval in lifestyle.

"I wasn't' always such a good Muslim in Dublin," he said. "You could say I spent some time at nightclubs."

Rebels have seized several towns and villages in the offensive. But the war has seen Col Gadafy’s forces hit back and retake territory.

Mr Najjair lost two comrades on Sunday and he says taking the town of Tiji - the next goal - will be tough to achieve because it is loyal to the regime. "Their blood runs green," he said, referring to the colour that symbolises Col Gadafy’s rule.

"Yesterday a sniper was closely tracking me and shooting at me as I moved for quite a distance," he said.

But he believes it's worth the risk. “This has made me learn about myself, what I am capable of achieving," he said.

Check on 'Aussie' killed fighting in Libya

Mark Dodd From: The Australian August 01, 2011 12:00AM

THE Australian embassy in Cairo is investigating claims an Australian supporter of armed rebels fighting to topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been killed in action and his body mutilated.

A report in last week's The Spectator claimed that an Australian rebel supporter was killed in fighting around the western village of Qawallis and his heart cut out by pro-Gaddadfi fighters.

Yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had received no confirmation of any Australians killed in Libya, but the Cairo embassy was investigating the report.

In the July 23 edition of the magazine, BBC reporter Paul Wood, who covered fighting in the Nafusa mountains, wrote about a surprise attack by Libyan loyalist forces on Qawallis, held by about 12 rebels.

He witnessed the arrival of an ill-equipped, unnamed, Australian rebel-supporter.
"A man in a 'Free Libya' T-shirt and flip-flops wandered up. He had arrived a week ago from Australia and was on the front line 'giving moral support'," Wood wrote. "He had only a pen knife to fight with, and he wasn't alone in that."

But suddenly gunfire erupted as Libyan loyalists counter-attacked, forcing a panicked retreat from Qawallis.

After escaping to a safe location, Wood said the rebels regrouped and launched their own successful counter-attack that evening, involving 50-60 jeeps.

But he noted the operation to retake Qawallis had been costly.

"The dead included the Australian in flip-flops. The rebels said his was among three 'mutilated' bodies recovered from the battlefield with, it was claimed, the hearts cut out."

Dozens of Libyan students in Australia have taken part in noisy protests demanding Gaddafi step down and it may be that the dead Australian was a Libyan student who had returned home to support the rebels.

In June, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced Australian recognition of the rebel Transitional National Council, breaking the long-held tradition of recognising states, not governments.

"What we are doing is recognising this entity, the Transitional National Council, as the legitimate interlocutor on behalf of the Libyan people," he said.

"That is the formulation now used by the United Kingdom and a range of other countries and the number of those countries is now growing as the Transitional National Council consolidates its position in the international community."

Canberra would not provide military support to NATO-led operations in Libya, but would focus on humanitarian aid, he said.

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