They fought on the front in west Libya and in battles in Tripoli, and now they are trying to take the south. Marwan and Elias are both exhausted but upbeat — and determined to finish the job.
The two friends, proudly declaring themselves to be citizens of the Libyan revolution, recount the fierce firefights that preceded the rebel seizure of strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in the capital.
But upon arriving in the small town of Al-Jamil, close to Libya’s border with Tunisia, the pair are at a loss for words to describe their accomplishments.
“It tastes just like the aroma of freedom,” shouts Marwan Meyouf, 30, amid cries of joy and celebratory machine-gun and cannon fire.
Since the initial rebel assault on Tripoli on Saturday night a week ago, they have barely slept, engaging in urban shoot-outs almost without interruption before then traversing the desert in the south.
“We heard Zuwarah was under siege and we’re going to help them,” says Elias Azzabi, a 28-year-old medical student.
“Tomorrow we will join our friends to attack Ghadames, from where Kadhafi supporters are fleeing to Algeria.”
Both admit to not having enjoyed the conflict, conceding that they were initially fearful upon taking up arms.
“We are just simple citizens,” Marwan says. “When I go into battle I’m scared. But I want to get rid of that scum Kadhafi who took everything from us.”
Of the two, Marwan more closely fits the image of a rebel fighter. He has a more athletic build, sports Ray Ban sunglasses, cradles a heavy machine gun and has a knife lodged in his belt.
As second-in-command of the KK Tripoli battalion, he was among those who led the assault on Tripoli from the Nafusa mountains in the west.
When the rebellion began in February, Marwan left for Benghazi, the eastern city that was long the rebel headquarters, and fought in Ajdabiya before joining rebel forces in the mountains.
“I will not rest until Kadhafi is finished,” he vows.
Elias, wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet he found in Bab al-Aziziya, stayed in Tripoli throughout.
For months he trained secretly at home, hiding a Kalashnikov in his basement and learning to load and aim it, as well as how to assemble bombs.
“I was jogging and exercising every day,” he says. “My friends laughed at me, but I wanted to be ready. The day of the assault, I was with a small group that hid on the roof of a building, waiting for the rebels.”
“We left and I fired my first shot.”
His gunfire later resulted in the deaths of three men armed with rocket launchers, Elias says.
“They shot at me — I did not have time to think, I didn’t have a choice. It was a new feeling. But we do this to defend our country and our children.”
The two friends are proud of the rebellion brought about by ordinary Libyans.
They recall the Tunisian revolution in January and the Egyptian revolt the following month that gave them and other Libyans the courage to defy Kadhafi, who had been in power for 42 years.
They remember the first demonstrations against the regime, and the strength they said they found buried inside them. They speak of the time Kadhafi pledged to crush the “rats” who rose up against him.
“I’m proud, because now we are free,” says Marwan.