Slain US photographer chronicled Yemenis` everyday lives
American photojournalist Luke Somers, who was killed in Yemen during a failed raid to free him from his al Qaeda kidnappers, was driven by an urge to document the lives of regular people.
Washington: American photojournalist Luke Somers, who was killed in Yemen during a failed raid to free him from his al Qaeda kidnappers, was driven by an urge to document the lives of regular people.
He traveled to the Red Sea nation two years ago with ambitions to teach, but the amateur photographer soon picked up a camera, capturing images in the streets of Sanaa as political turmoil boiled over during 2012 national elections.
The 33-year-old worked as a freelance photographer for the BBC and also spent time at local newspapers, including the Yemen Times, as an editor and translator before he was snatched off the streets of Sanaa 15 months ago.
On Saturday, Somers and a South African hostage were killed during a failed attempt by US special forces to free them from al Qaeda militants in Yemen.
Calling their murders "barbaric,"President Barack Obama said he had authorized the rescue attempt after a video was released this week announcing that Somers would be killed within 72 hours.
"Other information also indicated that Luke`s life was in imminent danger," Obama said.
Somers, he said, "came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization.
"The callous disregard for Luke`s life is more proof of the depths of AQAP`s depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in seeking to defeat their evil ideology," Obama said.
Somers, 33, worked as a freelance photographer for the BBC and also spent time at local newspapers, including the Yemen Times, as an editor and translator before he was snatched off the streets of Sanaa 18 months ago.
He said sharing stories of regular Yemenis informed his work, which often featured everyday people, whether at a political rally, in a hospital or while spending time with handicap activists.
"It means so much for people here to know that their story is being heard (and) seen," he told the BBC.
His images show that he was not afraid to get close to the action, capturing victims of Yemen`s violent protests.
The effect of taking candid pictures stayed with him, he said, telling the BBC the "smell of death" often remained after he finished shooting.
Somers, who was born in Britain but spent most of his life in the United States, told the BBC he had planned to leave Yemen in August 2013, about a month before he was kidnapped.
His brother Jordan said he did not know why he was taken hostage. "He`s a good person and he`s only been trying to do good things for the Yemeni population," Jordan said in a video earlier this week with his mother Paula.
"He goes out of his way to care for and respect the common person and he has made many lasting friends in Yemen," Jordan said.
Fellow freelance journalist Tik Root, who met Somers in Yemen, called him a "private guy," but said his photography was anything but.
"Luke never wavered from the frontlines. He spent countless hours documenting revolutionaries in Sanaa`s Change Square and snapped photos ranging from Yemen`s former president to children afflicted with malnutrition," said Root, writing on the PBS Newshour website.
"His work provides a gripping window into a country rarely on the world`s radar. It also reveals his deep and persistent love for the country."
His murder, which US President Barack Obama called "barbaric," came only days after Somers appeared in a video saying he was in imminent danger and appealing for help.
"I am looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I am certain that my life is in danger," said Somers.
"As I sit here now I ask if anything can be done, please let it be done," he said, appearing composed, wearing a collared shirt and glasses.
His mother Paula appealed to his captors this week before his death was announced.
"Our hearts are with you, we miss you and we love you. And all we want to do is see you again and have you safely in our arms all together," she said.