Dutch photographer killed as clashes rock Libya's Sirte

Dutch photographer killed as clashes rock Libya's Sirte
Jeroen Oerlemans, a Dutch photographer, was killed by an Islamic State fighter during clashes in Libya's Sirte, as reports say 80 militants were killed in the fighting.
3 min read
03 October, 2016
The Dutch photographer is the second journalist to be killed in the Sirte offensive [Getty]
A Dutch journalist was killed by sniper fire Sunday while covering clashes in Libya's coastal city of Sirte, as unity government forces battled Islamic State group holdouts in the militant bastion.

Dr Akram Gliwan, spokesman for a hospital in Misrata where pro-government fighters are treated, told AFP that photographer Jeroen Oerlemans was "shot in the chest by an IS sniper while covering battles in Sirte" 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli.

Gliwan said his body had been transferred to Misrata, 200 kilometres west of Sirte.

Oerlemans was working in Libya for a number of organisations, including the Belgian weekly Knack magazine, which confirmed his death.

A message on Knack's website said Oerlemans was shot on a reporting assignment and that the publication "wishes his family much strength".

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders also mourned his death.

"Oerlemans is a journalist who went where others would not go. He was driven to bring us the news through his pictures especially from the world's trouble spots," Koenders said in a statement.

"That he has now paid the highest price is incredibly sad. I wish his wife, children and family every strength at this great loss. A great photographer is gone."

80 IS members killed

Forces allied with Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord launched an assault against the militants in Sirte in May.

IS fighters holed up in the town, birthplace of ousted Libyan dictator Moamer Ghaddafi, responded with suicide bombings and sniper fire, slowing the government-backed advance.

Forces loyal to Libya's unity government said on Monday at least 80 extremists were killed at the weekend in the city of Sirte, a former stronghold of IS.

"Commanders of front line units have counted at least corpses (of extremists) killed as they tried in vain to attack behind the lines" of the loyalists, said the media office of forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA).

It said in a statement sent to AFP that the bodies of another 25 extremists were found in alleyways of the battleground coastal city.

The pro-GNA forces, who reported eight soldiers killed and 57 wounded Sunday, said vehicles, arms and ammunition were seized in the latest round of an assault launched on May 12 and executed in phases to recapture Sirte from ISIS.

IS said on Twitter that it had killed or wounded 64 members of the pro-GNA forces.

On Saturday, GNA aircraft conducted six sorties in preparation for an advance on the militants' hideout in the city's east, said the GNA statement.

American aircraft have also carried out some 177 air strikes since early August in support of GNA forces, according to US Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The fighting has left more than 450 GNA fighters dead and 2,500 wounded. The IS death toll is not known.

An IS defeat in Sirte would be a serious blow to the group, which has faced major setbacks in Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Libya was plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed ouster of Ghadaffi in 2011, and the control of the country - as well as access to its vital oil wealth - is divided between rival governments and militias.

The GNA was formed following a UN-backed deal in December 2015, but it has struggled to impose its power across a country.

Oerlemans was the second journalist to be killed in the Sirte offensive, after Libyan journalist Abdelqader Fsouk was killed there in July.

British war photographer Tim Hetherington was killed in April 2011 in a mortar attack in the western Libyan city of Misrata.

He died alongside Chris Hondros, a 41-year-old US photographer for Getty, as the pair covered intense fighting between Ghadaffi's forces and rebels.