‘I had made the gruelling journey by car, but Jim Foley, ever resourceful,
arrived by Chinook helicopter.
The destination was Sirte, the Libyan city where, in October 2011, Colonel
Muammar Gaddafi and his troops were making a last stand. Foley had caught a
lift with a group of medics who were flying to a local field hospital, and
from then on that’s how I knew him – as the man always more deeply embedded
with the people we were reporting on, always further forward on the front
line, always wanting to get closer to what was happening.
We were part of the same tribe: a group of freelancer journalists who, with
borrowed flak jackets and a few dollars in our pockets, were driven to Libya
by our love of reporting. For a while Jim, myself and two other freelance
friends lived on the edge of Sirte, in a home that had been turned into the
headquarters of a Libyan rebel group, the self-named “Victory Brigade”.
They were enthusiastic young Libyans, many barely of university age, and Jim
quickly got to know them best. By day, he’d travel to the front line with
the fighters, or catch them up by hitching a lift on a passing tank. At
night he glimpsed their softer side, playing games of pool on the beaten up
table in the garden, and sleeping on the floor in the living room. He saw
some of the natural innocence of their youth, innocence that they hid so
well as soldiers on the battlefield.
Those had been more optimistic times in the Middle East. While the Libyan war
in 2011 was horrifying, there was also a feeling that soon life for its
people would improve. When the uprising moved to Syria shortly after, Jim
moved with it, making covert trips from Turkey to witness the bombardment of
civilian homes, towns and villages by President Bashar al-Assad’s air force.
His ability to put people at ease, and his natural curiosity meant he went
further into the country, and stayed longer, than most journalists would
dare in capturing a war that nobody would win. Extremism soon filled the
vacuum created by that absence of victory. With the creation of Isil, the
disaffected and the psychopathic, some from Britain, saw an opportunity to
Three of my friends from that early freelance tribe have since disappeared at
the hands of Isil militants. Jim knew the risks, and yet he still had the
talent and courage to produce rare and vivid accounts of life – and death –
in the war zone. He could have left, he could have caught a plane home, but
he preferred to remain among those who did not have that option.’
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