Irishman swaps Dublin's nightlife for Libya's frontlines

NEAR TIJI, Libya Mon Aug 1, 2011 2:14pm EDT

1 of 2. Irish-Libyan rebel fighter Husam Najjair speaks to reporters at a front line checkpoint near Tiji in western Libya, August 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

NEAR TIJI, Libya (Reuters) - 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 who partied hard in Dublin's lively pubs after work, he now belongs to The Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, one of the rebel forces struggling to end Muammar Gaddafi'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 purchased himself.

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

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

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 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," said the bearded Najjair. "You could say I spent some time at nightclubs."

The days can be tedious. Rebels sit around for hours cleaning their guns and awaiting orders as the sun beats down on rough, sandy terrain and scrub that offer few hiding places from the heat, or Gaddafi's Grad missiles.

Some yell Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), hoping to energize themselves during the Ramadan fast.

When it is broken, the meal is likely to be simple, perhaps another camel like the one which was eaten recently. The stench of the remains of its carcass permeated the air.

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

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 Gaddafi.

"Their blood runs green," he said, referring to the color that symbolizes Gaddafi's rule.

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

But he believes it's worth the risk.

This has made me learn about myself, what I am capable of achieving," he said.

(Editing by David Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

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