AMSTERDAM: A sniper fatally shot a Dutch photojournalist on Sunday in the Libyan city of Sirte, the Islamic State’s last bastion in the chaos-wracked North African country.
Jeroen Oerlemans was killed while accompanying mine-clearing teams in the part of the city that has been freed from IS control, according to fellow journalist Joanie de Rijke, who was reporting with him for the Belgian publication Knack.
The Dutch ambassador to Libya, Eric Strating, tweeted: “Rest in Peace. Your photographs of #Sirte #Libya and other places will live on forever.”
Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said in a statement that “Oerlemans is a journalist who kept going where others stopped. Driven to put the news into pictures in the world’s hotspots. It is profoundly sad that he has now paid the ultimate price for this.”
Oerlemans, 45, is survived by his wife and three small children, according to Eike den Hertog of the Beeldunie photo agency.
Oerlemans had been scheduled to return home Monday.
He was wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, “so he was protected,” and was clearly identifiable as a journalist, de Rijke, the journalist traveling with him, told Dutch national broadcaster NOS.
“But it doesn’t matter to IS, of course. They shoot at everything and everybody,” she said.
Oerlemans was hit in the side, in an opening in the vest, and the shot reached his heart, de Rijke said after seeing her colleague’s body in the morgue.
She said it’s unclear whether he was targeted or whether it was an accidental hit, since there were crowds of people crossing back and forth at the same time.
“We were standing on the frontline,” she said. “There was heavy fighting going on,” and active IS snipers in the area.
De Rijke insisted that Oerlemans and the other journalists currently in Sirte “didn’t take any bigger risks than all the others.”
“There were other people who were constantly crossing that street,” she told NOS. “He had the bad luck to get hit. Brutal bad luck.”
Den Hertog of the photo agecy mourned the loss of a friend and powerful photographer who “managed to capture what he wanted to say in pictures.”
“He wasn’t a cowboy. He was prudent, and very smart,” den Hertog said.
Oerlemans was abducted and wounded in Syria in 2012 with British photographer John Cantlie, and freed a week later. Cantlie was later abducted again, and is believed to remain in captivity.
Oerlemans had covered wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya and the journey of migrants to Europe. Oerlemans studied photojournalism at the London College of Communication, according to his Facebook account.
It is especially difficult and dangerous for journalists to work in Libya, in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Much of the country is ruled by a patchwork of local and tribal militias.
Militias from Misrata have recently driven IS militants out of most of Sirte, their last urban stronghold, with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
Oerlemans is the third journalist to be killed in Libya this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The death of Jeroen Oerlemans is a reminder that those who bring us images and video from the frontlines often pay the heaviest price,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said in a statement.