With his flipped-round baseball cap and “Just Do It” T-shirt, Tareg Gazel looks like any other 19-year-old. But this teen’s job is to use cunning and guile to find and kill Muammar Gaddafi regime snipers.
His mother is from Belfast, his father is Libyan and, as if drawn from the script of a Hollywood movie, he is now using what he learnt hunting game in the desert to liberate Zawiyah, his city that lies almost at the gates of Tripoli.
Rebels said late on Friday that they had freed Zawiyah, just 40km from the Libyan capital, but rockets continued to fall on the city from a nearby forest and it is uncertain whether all the snipers have been eliminated.
“We killed four last night, two the night before,” Gazel said as he waited with his rebel comrades under the protection of a motorway flyover, taking a rest and cleaning weapons before the next sniper report comes in.
He is prepared to reveal some of the ruses that he and the eight-man team he heads use to find snipers around the sprawling city, but “not the new tricks”.
“We hear from informants that there’s a sniper somewhere, so we go to see what’s happening, we stay several hours just to observe and then we do our tricks.”
“At night the job is easier. We attach a light to a dog, and when it crosses the street, we see where the sniper’s laser sight is coming from. That’s how we got the last one. Or we run across the street ourselves to draw their fire.”
“The most we’ve waited to get a sniper is eight hours. We’re not [elite US Navy] SEALs or anything; we’re just lucky.”
Hunters with a different sort of prey
Luck and the experiences gained from one of the favourite pre-revolution pastimes in the area.
“Many of us around here are hunters, we’re good with rifles,” he said, boasting that “most of our kills are either to the head or to the heart”.
But these hunters now tracking human prey are up against a better-trained and better equipped enemy.
Gazel says that most of their foe are foreign mercenaries as Gaddafi has to buy his fighters because of a lack of popular support for his over four-decade rule.
“Two days ago we caught a Nigerian woman sniper. She was bloody brilliant,” he said.
“She’s being held in a secret prison, along with the others we’ve captured. I don’t know where she got her training, but she’s very smart.”
Gazel offers to show the prisoners, but points out that they can not be photographed as that would be a breach of the Geneva Convention.
Gazel nevertheless has little pity for Gaddafi’s fighters, who he says killed his uncle as he left the mosque after prayers.
“They’ve even been firing mortars at the graveyard, because that’s where we buried our martyrs,” he said as a dead African pro-Gaddafi militia fighter is driven past in the back of a rebel pickup.
“I have a British passport but that doesn’t mean anything here if they catch me,” he says, declining to be photographed because “I still have relatives in prison”.
Gazel says that once the fighting is over, he plans to continue his pre-revolutionary occupation of “just chilling”, hopefully in the Caribbean.
“Of course we’ll also go to Tripoli,” he said. “Or we might not. There could be another agenda, but I can’t talk about that.” — AFP