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Expats leave good life behind to join Libyan revolution

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Libya's expat freedom fighters train
  • Libyans from many countries have returned to fight with rebel forces
  • Bashir, a software developer in Canada, was motivated by news reports to return
  • Fittest are trained to be special forces, other are trained in urban warfare

Benghazi, Libya (CNN) -- Twenty-eight-year-old Bashir says he used to have an idyllic life: A well-paid job as a software developer, good friends and comfortable surroundings in Canada.

"I'm a guy who smokes, listens to rock and roll, and enjoys my life," he says.

Now he's sleeping in a tent, eating rationed food and learning to shoot a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), among other weapons, in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in Libya.

Bashir is originally from the capitol Tripoli. His family members still live there. He is one of several men in a newly formed fighting unit made up of others who decided to return to their homeland to fight against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

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The drastic decision to leave his comfortable life in Canada was prompted by the bloody images he was seeing on the news every night.

"I tried to stay there and live with it, just to send money or collect donations and go and protest and stuff. But I realized that that's not enough. And I could not sleep; I could not work."

Bashir has no trouble working now and he says he has a lot to learn. For one thing he's never held a gun before. He is one of more than 85 men, many from abroad, who now live together, train together and pray together on a walled piece of property loaned to them by a rebel supporter.

The man they agreed to make Commander, Mahedi, has come in from Ireland. Some of the others say they arrived from France, Greece, Poland, Italy, and Spain. None have previous military experience so they are being trained by older men in Benghazi who do.

Mahedi says his fighters are broken up into groups: The fittest are training to be special forces, the others are learning urban warfare.

In the compound the men are tested on things such as taking a Kalashnikov apart and putting it back together. They head out to the beaches of Benghazi for mortar target practice.

The mortar rounds reach long distances so they shoot them out to sea trying to get a hold on how to hit a far off target. Every now and then they have to stop as a small fishing boat slowly cuts through the green-blue water.

Then they pick up their Belgium FN rifles and begin target practice on the canisters that used to hold the mortar rounds. They are propped up on the sand facing the water. Only one of them manages to hit his target. They cheer. It turns out it is easy to pick up a gun, but not so easy to hit your mark.

Most of the men wear masks giving them a menacing appearance, especially as they tote their guns across the backs and chests.

The men say they wear masks because they do not want to be identified for fear they will be recognized, making their families a target.

They want to make clear they have no political or religious agenda beyond their mission to defend their families and further the revolution by helping to oust Gadhafi.

"We are just civilians. And we are just here to get them out and that's it. I am going to throw my guns (away afterward)," Bashir said.

Bashir's family doesn't even know what he is up to. They know he is in Libya but they don't know why. He's afraid to tell them because he suspects their phones may be bugged.

So he trains in secret with the others, waiting for the chance to complete his mission.

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