Hosam Al-Najjair, a 32 year old building contractor from Dublin, has found his life take an unexpected turn thanks to the rising in Libya.
This week he's in Tripoli fighting for the ouster of Muammar Gadafy. Recently he was at the wheel of the first rebel vehicle to enter Tripoli’s landmark Green Square, now renamed Martyrs Square by the rebels.
"I arrived into the square and saw two policemen standing there, shocked at what was happening. They couldn’t understand how we arrived so quickly. They dropped their guns but there was heavy artillery fire coming at us. I reversed the jeep, jumped out, and then we moved in to clear the square," he told the Irish Times.
"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 added.
Son of a Libyan father and Irish mother, Najjair spent most of his life in Ireland before returning to Libya for a wedding just before the February uprising took place.
Now he finds himself head of security for the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, one of the biggest rebel units from western Libya, the first one that reached the capital. It is led by his brother-in-law Mahdi al-Harati, a teacher of Arabic who lives in Dublin with his wife and family.
"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 says.
There are several Irish accents in the brigade, all men who have lived and worked in Dublin, among them a software engineer and a psychiatrist. In fact the disproportionate number of Libyans with Irish connections within the rebels’ ranks has been remarked on by his fellow brigade members. 'It’s almost an Irish revolution,' he jokes.
Mahdi al-Harati, another brigade leader, is combing Tripoli district by district for any remaining pockets of resistance. Harati speaks wistfully of his family back in Dublin. He has two main worries about Libya’s post-Gadafy future.
'One is the political struggle, the process of setting up the state. If it takes a long time to take shape, this could cause problems. The second issue on my mind is the widespread availability of weapons since the uprising began. We are working now to create a mechanism through which these weapons could be handed back or collected.'
He scoffs at any comparison with post-Saddam Iraq, however. 'The two countries are very different on several different levels. We have no sectarian or ethnic divisions, plus the Libyans, as a population, have a tradition of being a peaceful people.'
Najjair adds: 'When we got here first, I thought the regime would have just crumbled but it hasn’t,' says Najjair. 'Gadafy is going to fight to the end, but so are we. Wherever he goes, we’ll be after him.'