CORRECTED-Libyan rebel searches war zone for lost son

Thu Apr 14, 2011 9:14pm GMT
 

(Corrects name to Mehdi in para 12)

* Son had no proper military training

* Last seen near battle in central town of Bin Jawad

* Gaddafi says rebels are armed gangs, Qaeda militants

By Michael Georgy

AJDABIYAH, Libya, April 14 (Reuters) - When Libya's uprising erupted, Moneim Ali had high hopes that Muammar Gaddafi could be toppled, so he gave his 15-year-old son an AK-47 assault rifle and sent him to the front to fight government forces.

Nearly two months later, he is not so sure Gaddafi's 41-year rule will end, government forces have recaptured one town after another, and wonders whether his son will ever come home.

Holding up a picture of the boy, Ali walked through a chaotic rebel-held checkpoint past burned out tanks, bullet casings and anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks and asked one of the fighters whether anyone had seen him.

"I last spoke to Mehdi 45 days ago," Ali, also a rebel, told Reuters. "He said, 'Father please pray for me. Pray that I will be victorious.' Now we have no idea where he is."

Revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia that removed long-serving Arab autocrats inspired some Libyans to take on Gaddafi.

"I told Mehdi to go fight. And the rest of the family was behind it because it is a great cause to try and get rid of Gaddafi. He ruined our country," said Ali.

But the uncertainty is now causing strains in the family. The father has made several inquiries with rebels and has come up empty-handed.

"Every time my wife watches the news and she sees the fighting she gets so emotional. She says, 'I want to see my son. Go find him,'" said Ali, who once served in Gaddafi's army.

LEFT HIS STUDIES AND FOOTBALL

Mehdi had been calling home regularly.

"He would tell me how he and his comrades had opened fire on Gaddafi's people," said Ali proudly. "Other times he would tell me about all the awful things government troops did to people. How they kill civilians and steal property."

Gaddafi's government denies such reports, saying he is fighting armed gangs and al Qaeda militants determined to destabilise Libya and set up an Islamic emirate.

Mehdi, who left his studies and good times playing soccer with friends to join a ragtag group of rebels, was last seen in the town of Bin Jawad a few weeks ago.

At that time, Ali's cousin, Abdel Nasser Ibrahim, was among about 200 rebels in the area who had been surrounded by government troops.

"They cut us off from all sides and shelled us for over 24 hours. We lost 72 men. There were limbs everywhere. When it was over our vehicles were destroyed and we had to walk 16 kilometres to get back," he said, standing beside Ali.

"Some were burned beyond recognition. Some of the fighters were around Mehdi's age. He could have been there..."

Like so many other rebels, Mehdi had no proper military training. But that did not seem to worry his father too much, at least on the surface. "I taught him how to hunt when he was a young boy. Hopefully that will help him," said Ali, 53, a forensics expert at a court.

The two plan to make more enquiries about Mehdi as they move along the frontline. "I prayed for Mehdi to win just like he asked me to," said Ali.

"But if he dies, or is already dead, so be it. I also prayed that he will become a martyr. To die fighting Gaddafi would be an honour for my son and all of us."

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

 
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