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The freedom fighter

Julie buntjer/Daily Globe Awad Abdulrahman has lived in Worthington since 1994, but he returned to his homeland of Libya in April to help in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorial regime. Abdulrahman returned home Oct. 4 after suffering injuries from a grenade.

WORTHINGTON -- Awad Abdulrahman sat on the couch at the home of a fellow Libyan friend Monday afternoon, the flag of his home country proudly displayed behind him.

Up until a few weeks ago, Abdulrahman was in Libya, fighting soldiers recruited by the country's dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

He trained rebel forces to fire machine guns, guarded oil fields and ultimately saved his friends by throwing himself on a grenade. Abdulrahman returned to Worthington just 16 days before Gaddafi was captured in a drainage structure in Sirte and killed by rebels.

Abdulrahman likely would have been in Libya for Gaddafi's death had he not been injured.

The 46-year-old still has his arm in traction. Lifting up the front of his shirt, he reveals scars -- the longest stretching from his sternum to his belly button.

"It landed in front of me," he said of the grenade, which was tossed toward him during street fighting.

While his wounds will heal in time, Abdulrahman is hopeful his country will heal in time as well.

The Libyan was just 18 years old when he was pulled out of high school by Gaddafi to serve in the Libyan Army.

"I didn't agree with anything he did in the country," Abdulrahman said of the dictator.

When he left the Army in 1987, Abdulrahman was forced to leave the country.

He found safe haven in Nairobi, Kenya -- more than 2,000 miles from his home and family.

"If we went back to Libya, Gaddafi would kill us," Abdulrahman said.

Three years later, while still in Kenya, Abdulrahman learned his refugee status was accepted by the United States.

He left Africa behind for the land of freedom and opportunity, spending nearly four years in Chicago before moving to Worthington in 1994 to begin a job with JBS.

Abdulrahman worked at JBS right up until he left for Libya in April, and will return to work there once his injuries heal and he gets settled back in his own home.

For now, he's content to be back in the United States, close to his three children, who range in age from 9 to 15.

He hopes his two sons and daughter will someday be able to safely travel to Libya for a visit.

"When the country 100 percent is safe, I'll try to get my kids there to see their family," said Abdulrahman. His mother, five brothers and four sisters remain in the country.

It was phone calls from his family that ultimately led to Abdulrahman's return to Libya.

His flight took him to Egypt, and he had friends waiting at the airport there to take him on the nine-hour journey.

"I fight Gaddafi," he said. "I see how he killing people for no reason. I went over there to help protect our people."

Gaddafi had brought men from other African countries -- Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia among them -- to fight in Libya.

"They came to fight and didn't care. They killed children, old people, young people," Abdulrahman shared.

Libya was once a rich country, he said, but "Gaddafi ruined it."

It was difficult for Abdulrahman to hear the reports of what was happening in Libya while being responsible for his family here in Worthington.

"I've got a family here and a family over there, but I just couldn't take watching it on TV," he said. "I never (doubted) for one minute to fight for my country. I thought once and I go. (Gaddafi) killed his own people -- that's just sick."

Abdulrahman explained to his children why he had to leave and join in the fight against the dictator, and he hopes one day they will understand just what their dad did to help move Libya toward freedom.

Now that the dictator is dead, Abdulrahman said, "I'm happy. It will mean a lot (for the country). The dictator is gone -- (Gaddafi) not think he president -- he think he own it like a grocery store.

"My hope for Libya is it should be a free country -- a peaceful country," he added.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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