SIRTE: He protested peacefully in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to topple Hosni Mubarak but on the front line in Sirte he is fighting to capture Libya’s fugitive strongman Moamer Qaddafi "dead or alive."
Egyptian volunteer Alaa Abdullah Salam Al-Masri heads out daily with his Libyan comrades to criss-cross the vast desert battlefield around Qaddafi’s hometown on the back of a pick-up truck mounted with a machinegun, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder.
For him, capturing the toppled despot is a "humanitarian duty" and he is ready to shed his blood to fulfill it.
"I am here with my Libyan brothers to find Qaddafi. I believe it is a humanitarian duty," he told AFP at a base of troops loyal to Libya’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council, just outside Sirte.
NTC forces have laid siege to the city since the middle of last month and have met fierce resistance from Qaddafi diehards in one of their last two remaining bastions.
But Masri is confident the city will fall soon.
"I don’t deny that it has been difficult, but in few days we will have Sirte," said the soft-spoken 37-year-old, sporting a blue t-shirt above his green army trousers.
Masri said he is a believer in non-violence but felt compelled to take up arms in Libya because of the outrage he felt over the Qaddafi regime’s shooting of peaceful protesters in the second-largest city Benghazi in February.
His dislike for the fugitive strongman is evident when he joins Libyan comrades in trampling and burning posters of Qaddafi at the base on the eastern outskirts of Sirte.
"I protested peacefully in Egypt against Mubarak and we got him out," he said, referring to the 18 straight days of mass protests that led to the ouster of the veteran strongman in February after three decades in power.
"But I was unable to tolerate what I saw in Libya. I decided to plunge into the revolution here as it is a freedom movement. I contacted some Libyan friends I had in Benghazi and, after Mubarak was ousted, I came here to fight against Qaddafi."
The anti-Qaddafi rebellion erupted in Libya’s second-largest city in February and since then it has engulfed the entire nation of around five million people, with NTC fighters capturing town after town before seizing the capital in August and bringing an end to his 42 years of iron-fisted rule.
Masri said he had fought alongside the NTC forces in their march eastward from Benghazi towards Sirte, taking part in the battles for the strategic crossroads town of Ajdabiya and the key oil refinery town of Brega.
Masri has left behind his wife, six-year-old daughter and a grocery shop, which is now managed by his elder brother, in his hometown near Egypt’s second-largest city Alexandria.
"I don’t think about my family. When one is possessed with a humanitarian cause, nothing matters," he said, as Libyan comrade Salah Drisi brought him some lamb and rice to eat.
Masri said he was not the only Egyptian volunteer fighting alongside NTC troops.
He said he was happy with the outcome of the Egyptian revolution as the ousted Mubarak was now on trial with his two sons Alaa and Gamal.
"Qaddafi should have done what Mubarak did. He should have stepped down," Masri said, as he prepared to head back to the front.
"I still hope that he is captured and handed over to the judiciary. But he has to be taken out, dead or alive."