NALUT, Libya (Reuters) - Encouraged by promises of economic and political reform, Libyan Bashir Firgani put some money together and returned home after 18 years in Britain to set up a tourism business on the coast.
But he soon concluded that success would never be possible without ties to Muammar Gaddafi’s sons and other members of the
ruling elite. Nothing had changed.
Four months later uprisings which erupted in the Arab world inspired Firgani to pour his cash into Libya’s revolution. He bought two pick-up trucks for a small group of rebels which he now leads and took up arms.
“This is the most important investment in my life,” said Firgani, 39.
He is not so sure it will pay off.
Like many fighters, he has no military background or training and believes that the stalemate will drag on, or that Gaddafi may even extend his over 40 years in power unless NATO escalates its attacks on the army.
“If NATO would just fly a few helicopters in front of our trucks while we attack the army that would help. Is that asking for so much?,” said Firgani, between barking orders at his men at a rebel checkpoint in Libya’s Western Mountains.
Bullet casings lay scattered on the ground amid the smashed buildings of the checkpoint.
It’s a far cry from what Firgani imagined he would be doing in Libya after coming home — setting up a resort and soaking up the sun as the money rolled in.
Instead of worrying about handling tourists, he wonders if government forces about 15 km up the road will hit back hard after rebels attacked them in the plains below the Western Mountains on Thursday, taking control of several towns and villages.
“I never touched a gun in my life before I joined the revolution. I just had no idea how to fire anything,” said Firgani, glancing down at his Belgian-made rifle.
Minutes later a fighter with blood on his shirt arrived in a pick-up truck in a panic.
Gaddafi’s forces still dug in the area moved from one village to another along the rocky desert terrain in stifling heat and attacked.
Fears began spreading that government forces may head even closer or try to seize control of several rebel checkpoints - possibly trapping the rebel defense minister while he was visiting one of the villages insurgents had captured.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Firgani, a wiry, bearded man.
He told some rebels to drive their pick-up truck toward government soldiers to keep an eye on them.
“Don’t get too close. Be careful,” he said.
Despite the risks, Firgani thinks he made the right decision. Gaddafi had made his life difficult even when he lived in Britain, long before the revolt, he said.
“People would realize I am a Libyan and you could just tell they immediately associated me with Gaddafi and terrorism and the Pam Am bombing. Eventually it really bothered me,” Firgani said.
“As long as Gaddafi is in power all Libyans will suffer. He just has to go.”
Western intelligence agencies blamed Gaddafi for many terrorist attacks in the 1980s, including the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Libya’s government says the rebels are inspired by al Qaeda,
which wants to turn the country into a North African base for
Firgani lived in Birmingham, England, and was drawn home after Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam said he would introduce reforms to boost the economy and open up the political system.
“I am just praying that Gaddafi will disappear one day and I can think again about starting a resort,” Firgani said.