Page 2 of 2   <      

Two fighters, shoulder to shoulder, show the diversity of the Libyan rebel forces

Abu Sultan said he disapproves of his brother's choice to fight with al-Qaeda.

When Abu Sultan's fellow Libyans revolted against Gaddafi late last month, he finally had the chance he had been waiting for: to fight what he sees as injustice in his own country. He said he wants the international community to set up a no-fly zone to protect the rebels from air strikes, but he stressed that this is a Libyan fight.

"I want to protect myself, my land and my religion. Since I was born there has never been justice, no constitution and no elections," he said. "I don't want an Islamic Caliphate like al-Qaeda. I want a civilian government with justice, freedom and a constitution."

During an interview, he rubbed his clean-shaven chin and seemed relaxed in a green sweater and khaki slacks. His beard from the previous day's battle in the port city of Brega - where he and thousands of others repelled an assault by pro-Gaddafi forces - was gone.

"The media was focusing on our beards, so we all shaved," he said. He proudly displayed pictures of a younger brother who had volunteered with the Red Crescent in Tunisia during that nation's revolution in January. In the pictures, the young man sat with a group of male and female activists.

Abu Sultan's days are now filled with battles as rebel fighters try to defend their turf in eastern Libya.

"It's so hard to fight Libyans, but this is a mafia regime," he said. "When I see Libyans I want to throw my weapon away, but I can't."

His contrasting compatriot

Abu Sultan's experience in religiously motivated combat is in stark contrast to the carefree, secular background of Ghaybee, 26. Before the past several weeks, the high school dropout had never fired a weapon. Family members said he would often get into scuffles as a teenager and sometimes drank too much.

He joined the anti-government demonstrations on Feb. 19. On his way to the protest, he saw a security vehicle run over unarmed protesters. Then he thought back on his brother, who had been killed with hundreds of others under still-unexplained circumstances in 1996 at a Libyan prison.

Suddenly, Ghaybee's mind filled with rage, and he rushed to the local base of Gaddafi's widely-feared security force.

"All I could think is I want to kill these people," he said.

At the base, he joined with other demonstrators in an ultimately successful battle. His weapon was a fishing spear, while others threw home-made explosives and picked up guns from defecting soldiers.

Days later, still in need of a decent weapon, Ghaybee paid thousands of dollars for a sniper rifle and a Kalashnikov. Friends taught him how to fire, and almost overnight, the young clothing merchant became a fighter.

"Gaddafi is killing us and I have to go forward. I have to attack to protect myself and my family," he said, dressed in camouflage cargo pants, a black long-sleeve T-shirt and a goose-down-style vest. "It's a chance to avenge my brother's death. A chance I never had before."

He shrugged off the fear that goes with fighting Gaddafi's superior forces, and said loudly that he had always been brave, but that he now has the chance to win. And yet, he sheepishly admitted during a pause in the fighting, he does get scared sometimes.

But in battle, he knows why he is there and he can't leave the hundreds of others fighting alongside him. From different ages, classes, backgrounds and religious practices, they are united - for now - in one goal.

"We just want freedom, a safe country and basic rights," he said. "Because now we have none of those."

<       2

© 2011 The Washington Post Company