Sniper's bullet ends life-long friendship in Libya

ZAWIYAH, Libya Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:27pm EDT

1 of 3. Majdi (no last name) is aided by a Libyan rebel after viewing the body of his lifelong friend Abdul Ghani at a field hospital in Zawiyah, August 16, 2011. The two men went to the same law school and joined the rebel movement fighting Muammar Gaddafi, but their dreams of opening a law practice together were shattered by a sniper's bullet.

Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

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ZAWIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Life-long friends Abdul Ghani and Majdi often played soccer and billiards together as youngsters, went to the same law school and then joined the rebel movement fighting to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

A sniper's bullet shattered their dream of opening up a law practice together in a new democratic Libya where they intended to focus on human rights cases.

Minutes after doctors began putting a cloth over Abdul Ghani's corpse in a hospital on the edge of the strategic town of Zawiyah, Majdi was slowly led into the room.

He recognized his lifeless best friend, who had a bullet lodged in his head, then broke down and wept in the arms of an older rebel.

"We spent nearly every day together since we were eight. He was like a brother," Majdi told Reuters later, sitting on the fender of a car outside the hospital.

"We wanted to do so much. We wanted to enjoy freedom in a new Libya and work as proper lawyers who could actually help people."

Abdul Ghani was killed during the biggest military breakthrough for Libya's rebels in months.

At the weekend, fighters attacked Zawiyah, just 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold. They say they control 80 percent of it but are still vulnerable to pro-Gaddafi snipers concealed in high buildings.

The last time Majdi saw Abdul Ghani, they were walking toward an enemy-held part of Zawiyah when a mortar round landed nearby.

"The explosion startled us. I wanted to retreat but Abdul Ghani said 'let's go after them' and he kept going," said Majdi.

SENSE OF HUMOUR

Outside the hospital, other rebels walked by, tapped Majdi on the shoulder and told him to rejoice, not cry, because Abdul Ghani had become a martyr for a noble cause blessed by Allah.

But the tears kept flowing. "I liked his sense of humor the most. He was such a funny person," said Majdi. "He was also kind. And he read a lot about law. I admired that."

Joining the revolt against Gaddafi was not an easy decision and the 24-year-old friends were aware of the risks. Pro-Gaddafi

forces were still firing rockets at Zawiyah -- where Majdi will soon return to battle -- as he spoke.

But they felt taking up arms was the only way forward, said Majdi.

"Gaddafi's oppression was too much. Libya is a country with no freedom. No freedom of expression. Just no freedom. Look at that school. Do you think students were taught about human rights there? No," said Majdi, pointing to a building beside the hospital.

"Working as lawyers in the Libya run by Gaddafi would be useless. We would have no power. So we became rebels."

Gaddafi's government says the rebels are armed gangs inspired by al Qaeda. Majdi looks like a typical liberal-minded young man, with his blue jeans and sleeveless collar shirt.

Knocked back by the loss of his friend, he seemed to have lost the brash zeal of some other rebels. Instead, he was turning to his Islamic faith for strength.

"I hope that God will let us take the rest of Zawiyah and get rid of Gaddafi," he said. "Please God."

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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