An agonizing wait for Libyans in North Texas

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on March 20, 2011 at 9:55 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 21 at 4:10 PM

DALLAS — North Texas has a small but tight-knit Libyan community. It has been an agonizing few days for the hundreds of Libyans living here.

On Sunday night, many local Libyan families came together. Most haven't heard from loved ones back home for days, and have no idea what has happened to them.

"I worry a great deal, but I don't worry about my family as much as I worry about my country," said Muftah Omar, a Fort Worth resident who is struggling with his emotions.

His entire family lives in the eastern Libya rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where much of the violence has been centered.

"I feel in chaos and confusion... I'm happy, I'm sad," Omar said.

He joined 20 of his Libyan friends and neighbors Sunday evening at a Dallas ballroom to comfort each other and to brainstorm ways to help their families and their homeland.

"I'm getting to a point I don't want to see pictures any more," said Jalal Bessiouni. "My stomach gets so tied up, but you can't turn it off — you have to keep going."

An estimated 1,000 Libyans live across North Texas. Many, like Samir Mavrakis, fled in the 1970s after Moammar Gadhafi took power.

On Sunday, the Plano father got a rare satellite call from a cousin, relaying details of incredible violence by Gadhafi's forces.

"He said they are at a complete disbelief that there is a possibility of any human beings that will do what they have been doing in that city," Mavrakis said.

As for others, most said haven't heard from family members in days. That left them to pray — not just for peace, but for the Gadhafi regime to fall.

"We just don't want him," Omar said. "We want him out, and he's killing us!"

Libyans in North Texas are now trying to figure out ways not only how to raise money for their families and friends in North Africa, but also how to get it there.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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