Anxious but proud Irish Libyan families await news from Tripoli


IRISH CONNECTION:The wife of a senior rebel leader says that while she fears for her husband, she is delighted that he 'joined the revolution', writes CONOR LALLY

A LIBYAN-born Irish citizen who has lived in south Dublin for more than 20 years has emerged as one of the senior rebel leaders currently trying to topple the Gadafy regime in Tripoli.

Almahdi Alharati, a 39-year-old father of four from Firhouse, went back to Libya six months ago to join the fighting.

He has since become the commanding officer of the 380-strong rebel Tripoli brigade that was last night continuing to lead the advance against the Gadafy compound in Tripoli.

He was shot two months ago during clashes with government troops. It was the second time he had been shot in as many years.

His two brothers-in-law, who were born in Dublin and have lived in the south of the city all their lives, have also been part of the rebel movement.

One of them, Housam Najjair (32), was with Alharati in Tripoli last night on what is effectively the rebel frontline. Another brother-in-law, 19-year-old Yusef Najjair, had been with the rebels for a number of months before returning to Ireland earlier in the summer.

Alharati's wife and sister of the Najjair brothers, Eftama Alharati, last night told The Irish Timesfrom her home in Firhouse that while she feared for her husband's and brother's safety, she and the rest of her family were delighted the men had "joined the revolution".

"As he was talking to me [ yesterday morning from Tripoli] I could hear all the bombing and the gunshots," she said.

"When the gunfire became really strong he handed the phone over to an English reporter; she was telling me I should be so proud of my husband, he was here on the frontline and rallying the men."

She said when her family saw television reports of people in Libya protesting in the streets against the regime back in February, her husband immediately knew he needed to go back and join the fighting.

"If you have Libyan blood in you, you would feel ashamed not to do anything about it."

While she and her children - two boys aged 11 and 10 years and two girls aged seven and two years - desperately wanted their husband and father to return to Ireland safely, they were proud of what he was doing.

"Our hearts are in our mouths with worry but we wouldn't have it any other way; I wouldn't consider my husband a man if he hadn't gone and my mother wouldn't see her son as a man if he hadn't wanted to go at least."

While her father, a Libyan national, had come to Ireland in the 1970s as a student and met her mother, who is from Blackrock in Dublin, and settled down, her husband's route to Ireland had been much more troubled.

From a family that was regarded as "anti-Gadafy", he was jailed and tortured as a child and young man in Libya - the first time aged just 14 years.

By the time he was 19, his family helped him to leave the country. He spent a decade in "no man's land" in Malta and Egypt.

He then made his way to Ireland and was granted asylum and then citizenship here. He met his wife and they have settled with their children in Firhouse.

He first worked as a butcher preparing Halal meat in Dublin before becoming a tutor in the Koran and Arabic. When he decided in mid-February to return to Libya to join the rebels, he flew to Sudan and trekked through the desert across the border into Libya.

Alharati said once her husband had received basic weapons training at a rebel camp, his rise to lead the Tripoli brigade seemed to occur very quickly.

"He is a very charismatic person, he is a born leader. When he found himself in a situation where people basically wanted to make him in charge . . . the first thing he did was to set up a small group in a training camp.

"He got somebody to teach them how to use the basic weapons. And then from there more people added and added to the core group and then they led the fighting."

The first fighting he was involved in was in Nalut in western Libya, where he was wounded in the right leg by shrapnel. He had been shot in the same leg last year when he was part of an aid flotilla that sailed for Palestine but was stormed by Israeli forces.

She said her conversations with her husband had been infrequent and short since he had gone to Libya and become involved in heavy fighting.

"Each time he rings he has been a bit closer to Tripoli, a bit closer to Tripoli. And then finally today was the last conversation we had, a few hours ago when he was in front of the palace where they were being fired at by Gadafy's men from the inside.

"I don't think you get used to it. Even before when he has talked to me he has just come back from the battle, just home after three days of fighting. But you don't really hear that much gunfire.

"This is the first time I have really heard it; the phone was vibrating in his hand, the bombs were falling right next to him.

"I couldn't even hear the conversation. When he had to go he was saying 'I love you so much, forgive me for anything I have ever done wrong'. When the conversation goes that way you know he's scared."

She said that while she had tried to keep a lot of information from her children, three of them were "old enough to know what is happening".

"They'll watch the news every now and then, only stuff I allow them to watch; I won't allow them to watch anything too scary. They are a bit worried but I think I have sheltered them a lot. I've told them that everything is alright, they have really strong armour and that they're very well protected. So they are very proud and hope it will be over soon, that Daddy will be home."

"Our hearts are in our mouths with worry but we wouldn't have it any other way