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Unlikely hero of an uprising

Mehdi Mohammed Zeyo was the most unlikely of revolutionary heroes. The bespectacled 49-year-old worked in a state-owned oil company. He was a diabetic with two daughters.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2011 00:52 IST

Mehdi Mohammed Zeyo was the most unlikely of revolutionary heroes. The bespectacled 49-year-old worked in a state-owned oil company. He was a diabetic with two daughters.

But something snapped inside him as the uprising in Libya against the government of Muammar Gaddafi quickly turned bloody.

For days Zeyo carried the bodies of teenage boys from outside a security base in the centre of the city where Gaddafi’s militiamen fired on young protesters. Every day he went with hundreds of others to the cemeteries to bury the boys. His outrage grew, until Zeyo quietly made a decision, according to his family, friends and witnesses to his fiery death.

On the morning of February 20, he walked down the stairs of his apartment building with a gas canister hoisted on his shoulder, witnesses said. He put two canisters inside his trunk of his car, along with a tin can full of gunpowder.

Gaddafi’s forces sprayed his car with bullets as he approached the base, setting off a powerful explosion, witnesses said. The blast tore a hole in the base’s front gate, allowing scores of protesters and soldiers who had defected to stream inside. That night, the opposition won the battle for the base, and for Benghazi.

More than a week later, Benghazi remains the center of resistance to Gaddafi. Here, Zeyo’s face has become the symbol of courage for this youth-led rebellion.

“What he did helped a lot of people live,” said Yousef Salah, a protester.

(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content, visit www.washingtonpost.com)