Their experience gave them uncommon insight into the capabilities and weaknesses of Qaddafi's extensive intelligence networks. But their role in challenging the regime in its bastion – using only nonviolent means – today informs their commitment to build civil society in the new Libya. "We were naive at first, but we evolved, as did the revolution," recalls Nizar Mhani – Niz – with a laugh. "This is my first uprising."
"We knew what we wanted to do, to get in touch with the media to get the real story of Tripoli out. We wanted to demonstrate an opposition presence in Tripoli ... to raise morale in the city," says Dr. Mhani, a 30-year-old surgeon who was working in Wales. He has spent half his life abroad, but for the past eight months he's been hiding in Tripoli, relying on his wits and comrades to keep safe.
"Some of [our] activities were small, physically, but they had a great effect on morale ... on the media, and it just kept the story momentum going," says Mhani.
The group's efforts took place against the backdrop of NATO bombardments and the presence of fervently pro-Qaddafi True Believers at regime rallies and funerals. Adding to the sense of crisis in Tripoli, armed opposition forces controlled eastern Libya, and later the western mountains.
But it was at some of these very funerals and rallies, where crowds vowed to sacrifice their blood and souls for Qaddafi, that Mhani would show up, give a chant or two, and then make contact with foreign journalists who were present.
As the war ground on early last summer, Mhani told the Monitor – on an encrypted Internet line connected to the world through a satellite dish stolen from the roof of a government ministry – that there was only one outcome if he were caught: execution. And that was before Qaddafi's agents broke into the inner circle of the FGM, raided their houses, interrogated family members, and imprisoned and tortured a key member for a month.