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On His Summer Break, California College Kid Joins Libyan Rebels

Chris Jeon, 21, doesn't really fit in among the rebels. Reporters found the American kid in the middle of the Libyan desert, wearing a basketball jersey and converse sneakers. One of the rebels handed him an AK-47 and after toying with the safety, Jeon fired a couple of rounds in the air. Jeon, a math major at the University of California, Los Angeles, doesn't speak Arabic and he also knows little of warfare.

But he decided he would spend his summer vacation fighting with the rebels. He bought a one-way ticket (in case he got captured, he didn't want to lose another $800) to Cairo, then worked his way into Libya.

Both The Christian Science Monitor and the Arab Emirates' The National talked to Jeon on the front lines.

He told the reporters he thought it would be "cool" to join "one of the only real revolutions" in the world.

"I just go and see what happens," Jeon told the Monitor. "At spring break I told my friends a 'sick' vacation would be to come here and fight with the rebels."

Jeon doesn't seem to have plan for what's to come, The Monitor reports. In fact, he wasn't even sure of the date when the reporter talked to him, but he seemed to be having a blast:

At the rebel checkpoint about 80 miles from Sirte, he held a Russian-made shotgun the rebels had given him, appearing to be unfamiliar with it. Then a rebel handed him an AK-47, and he awkwardly fired several rounds into the air. The fighters cheered and laughed before quickly taking the gun back.

The boisterous rebel fighters, clearly enjoying this foreigner who had joined their ranks, shouted competing offers for him to join their respective brigades. Jeon needed translation to understand what they were asking. He communicates with sign language, and broken Italian.

He said the rebels had bestowed upon him an honorary Libyan name: Ahmed El Maghrabi Saidi Barga. As he said it, the rebels roared in approval.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.