Jorge Sierra: You might remember earlier this year I wrote an article about Alex Owumi, the player stuck in Libya during Civil War. http://cort.as/1GhP I asked Owumi about the death of Qaddafi today: “This is a historic day for the world and mostly for the Libyan people,” he said. “They still have a long way to go to rebuild the country, but this is a great first step. It just shows how when a country comes together they can accomplish great things. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and can now celebrate this myself and thank God that this is all over.”
Alex Owumi Rumors
Playing for a club in Benghazi, the city that became the rebel stronghold against longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Owumi got caught in the middle of fighting between the oppositon and the Gadaffi forces and became a first-hand witness of the brutality of the Civil War, which included shootings at civilians and the burning alive of pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.
Owumi first grew concerned about the situation in February, when small demonstrations started to get bigger and bigger. On February 17, real havoc began. As he was preparing to go to practice, Owumi received instructions from his club not to leave his apartment. Anti-government protesters were marching next to his building and military men were coming at them. “I had access to the roof of my building and there were three or four tanks driving into a crowd of people,” Owumi said. “I went back to my apartment for water and as soon as I went back up, I saw 30 or 40 military men shooting at the crowd of people. There was nobody with megaphones telling people to disperse. I just saw them shooting. Not to the air or the ground. Just shooting at people. Bodies were dropping. It was happening a block away from my street.”
When he returned to the apartment, shocked, Owumi had no access to Internet and the cell phone wasn’t working for international calls. He called the president of his team, Ahmed Elturki, asking for a way out. “He told me, ‘Don’t leave the building, don’t even leave the apartment’. I told him I wanted to go to the airport and leave and he told me the people in Libya had burned the airport down. I was in the middle of everything. I was like stuck in a box. “I went two weeks without phone or Internet to talk to my family.”
In the last two weeks of February, the rebels took control of the city and pro-Gadaffi major Huda Ben Amer had to flee to Tripoli, the capital of the country, 400 miles to the west. Many civilians got access to weaponry of all kinds at that point. “When I looked outside, I saw 10-year-old kids with machetes. They ambushed the police station, so the locals in my area went into the police station and got weapons. You saw regular people in the street driving around in jeeps, shooting AK-47s up in the air. That’s when I realized this was no Egypt. It was war zone. It was like a movie. There was people driving tanks. It was people running loose. “These people were not going to back down. I’ve never seen people willing to give their lives for their country like that. They were walking into bullets.”
The bullets did not come just from Libyan military, according to Owumi, but also from foreign mercenaries hired from Chad, Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria and Eastern Europe. He was able to see the burned bodies of some of them in a visit to the hospital once he was able to get out of the house on March 1. “There was a room with 30 or 40 body bags and they were still open. You could see the dead bodies. I asked who those people were and one person told me they were mercenaries from other countries. ‘They shot them and burned these people alive’, he told me. The hospital was crazy. There was people with no arms, babies crying… It was the saddest thing I had seen in my life.”
Sharing nationality with some of the mercenaries doing part of the killing in Libyian territory meant additional danger for Owumi on his way to Salum. What would have typically been a six-hour drive ended up being a 10-hour trip, according to Owumi, who carried a knife taped to his body all along the ride, which took place on March 4. His car was stopped on several occasions and the issue of Owumi’s Nigerian citizenship made the rebels antsy every time. “I was a Nigerian joined by a Senegalese teammate (Moustapha Niang) trying to escape a country where Nigerian and Senegalese men were hired to kill Libyans. Fifteen minutes into the ride, we had our first checkpoint. Three or four locals with AK-47s knocking on the window. The driver didn’t speak a lick of English. I get my passport out and all I can understand when they start speaking in Arab is ‘Nigeria’ and ‘Senegal’. They ask me to get out of the car and I said no and took out my American passport. They said ‘Good, good’. I was OK to go, but they said my Senegalese teammate could not. We showed them the playing cards from our team and said the name of our team. They took all his bags and dumped them on the side of the road. They weren’t looking at anything. We were finally able to go, but the same thing happened at every checkpoint.”