| 7.1°C Dublin

Irish Libyans lead brigade in bloody fight for liberation

TWO Irish-Libyans are at the centre of efforts to rebuild the battered North African country after helping to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

Mahdi al-Harati, who has been living in Dublin for two decades and is described as gentle and sincere by his friends, led the main rebel brigade into Tripoli.

His brother-in-law Hosam al-Najjair, who lives in Dublin's Portobello, is the brigade's head of security.

"He's (Mahdi) a really, really nice guy, a really gentle sort of character," said Dr Fintan Lane, who took part in an aid flotilla to Gaza with Mahdi last year.


"He's strong minded and has the heart of a lion so I'm not hugely surprised he is where he is but he certainly wouldn't strike you as a battle hardened soldier," Dr Lane said.

"Mahdi's a civilian who has decided he just has to do what he is doing," he said.

Mr Harati (37) teaches Arabic in Dublin and lives with his Irish-born wife Eftaima and family in Firhouse, Dublin 24.

He was last week appointed deputy leader of Tripoli's military council, a body which has the aim of merging all rebel units into one national army.

Fiachra O Luain, who was also part of last summer's ill-fated flotilla to Gaza, remembers when Mahdi defended him while they were both in the custody of the Israelis.

"Al-Mahdi stood up for me when Israeli prison guards were trying to ignore my concerns about the conditions we were being kept in.

"He is an extremely gentle, passionate and thoughtful man who never fails to ask about the wellbeing of his friends' families," Mr O Luain said.

"I am convinced that such a gentleman can only become motivated to take such real action because of genuine outrage against injustice," he added.

Mr Harati formed the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade soon after arriving in Libya in the wake of the February uprising.

He has revealed the rebels established a facility in Tripoli in which to detain Gaddafi loyalists.

His brigade was the largest of the rebel units that entered Tripoli more than a week ago and contains many expatriate Libyans.

Another friend of Mahdi's, Adele King, said he is a "fantastic guy".

"He's lovely. He really is. He is always very friendly and very respectful. He's just one of those people where you go 'wow, that's a great guy'," Ms King said.

Mr Najjair, a 32-year-old building contractor from Dublin, has been by his brother-in-law's side in the fighting.


"I'll need a long holiday if I'm still alive after all this. We've been through a long, long journey. We went through hell," he said.

He is the son of a Libyan father and Irish mother and his sister is married to Mahdi.

He spent most of his life in Ireland before returning to Libya for a wedding just before the February uprising took place.

Mr Najjair is now head of security for the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, which is led by Mr Harati.

"It was Mahdi's idea to form a brigade for Tripoli because at that time Benghazi and other cities had been liberated, and he thought Tripoli needed a brigade made up of people from Tripoli who would help liberate their hometown," he said.

See Page 16