UCLA student Chris Jeon is still in Libya, two reporters keeping tabs on him in Libya say.
The 21-year-old has turned into an Internet sensation, after buying a one-way ticket to Libya to fight against Ghadafi loyalists before returning for his last year at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Bradley Hope of the National and Kristin Chick of the Christian Science Monitor came across Jeon in the rebel-held town of An Nawfiliyah in Libya, where they interviewed him on Thursday.
In a video captured by Hope, Jeon is surrounded by Libyan rebels, wearing an L.A. Lakers basketball jersey, a Kaffiyeh — a traditional Arab headdress, googles, camouflage-printed pants, shoes that resemble Converse Chuck Taylors.
“I want to go to Sirte,” Jeon tells the rebels in English. It’s not clear that they understand him, or he understands them. In an interview with the National, Jeon said, “It’s hard to communicate. I don’t really speak any Arabic.” According to Jeon’s Facebook page, he can only speak English, Spanish and Korean.
On Friday, Al Jazeera English’s Evan Hill tweeted that Jeon was headed home: “Our team in east #Libya said rebels fed up with Chris Jeon, US kid who tried to join, told him 2 go, last seen on pick-up going 2 Benghazi.”
However, according to recent tweets from Hope and Chick, Jeon is still in Libya.
“Last we heard, he was still a celebrated mascot of the rebels, going from brigade to brigade. But info is hard to get,” Hope tweeted today. Later, he tweeted a picture of a couch at a rebel hospital in Ras Lanuf where Jeon had spent Thursday night, according to doctors. twitpic.com/6fc2wv
“He apparently slept in the hospital there, took a shower, got some sunscreen, then hitched a ride back to the front. Chris Jeon – still here,” Chick tweeted today.
Ras Lanuf is roughly an hour east of An Nawfiliyah — and farther east from Sirte than where he was the day he was interviewed.
Jeon told the paper that he came to Libya because it was the end of his summer vacation, and he “thought it would be cool to join the rebels.”
“This is one of the only real revolutions [in the world],” he said.
Jeon told the National that his family had no idea he was in Libya. Calls to numbers listed as his phone number, or his relatives’ on Friday and Saturday were not answered. Jeon has not responded to an email sent to his personal email account.
Far from the suggestion that Jeon was being sent home by the rebels, Hope tweets that according to some rebel commanders, he has been wholly accepted.
“There was no sign of rebels being ‘fed up’ with him. We talked to about five diff commanders and soldiers,” he tweeted today. “And one guy, who had never met him, told us in all seriousness that Chris wasn’t American anymore. ‘He’s Libyan’.”