A fate met in a battle still unfolding

Yasser Faisal, an Al Jazeera cameraman who was killed in Syria, is laid to rest in his hometown of Fallujah, Iraq.

In the last photo we have of him alive, Yasser looks up into the horizon as if contemplating a bright future ahead of him. Behind him, on a red dirt road, is an abandoned Syrian village and endless sky.

He’d left Baghdad at the end of November on a flight to Turkey with a new camera, new clothes and boundless confidence. If he’d told his family or friends he was crossing over into Syria they would have tried to stop him.

Once across the Turkish border, a Syrian journalist took him into Idlib province and warned him not to go any further.

“I told him this is not like Iraq – this is a whole other story,” says Muhanad Dhugeim who took the photos of Yasser before they parted ways. “He said he could handle it.”

Yasser didn’t tell anyone what story he was chasing when he borrowed money to buy an expensive new video camera and leave the country.

Iraq’s violence had long become old news with few news organisations interested in the relentless bombings. Syria was the new front.  

On Sunday in Fallujah, the video camera he’d used to film the aftermath of dozens of bombings and countless Iraqi demonstrations was placed on his flag-draped coffin. His brother, expecting him home from holiday in Turkey, travelled there instead to carry home his bullet-riddled body.

“He always wanted to know the truth,” said his brother Muhanad, at the family’s home in Fallujah on Monday.

For Yasser, 35, the end of the road appeared to be the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – an even more brutal version of the al-Qaeda organisation that had taken root in his home city of Fallujah.

‘He wanted the truth’

In his last known conversation, he told an Al Jazeera friend in Baghdad in a late-night Facebook chat that he had been detained by the organisation.

“He told me I’ve been captured by DAISH [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]. I’m completely cut off from the world,” said producer Osama Mohammad, who had contacted him about an assignment in Iraq. “I said ‘Are you joking’?” and then he wasn’t there.”

Two days later, on December 4, Yasser was shot in the head. His footage, including interviews with Syrians believed to be critical of the organisation, was never recovered.

Yasser, who had worked extensively for Al Jazeera and Reuters Television, was a freelancer trying to make a living for his wife and three young children.

At their home in Fallujah on Monday, Yasser’s family was still trying to understand why he died. His eldest daughter, Sara, is ten. His youngest children, just four and two, will know him only through stories about him and the legacy of his stories that showed Iraq to the world. 

“I’m glad he died a hero,” said one of his four sisters.

Yasser was buried in Fallujah, the city he loved, next to Shiekh Khalid al-Jumaily, a leader of the protest movement who was assassinated in Fallujah two weeks ago. A sign at the cemetery reads that 1,200 bodies from the battles of Fallujah in 2004, still unidentified, are buried there.  Yasser survived those battles and all the ones that followed. They believe in fate here. Yasser travelled to meet his in a battle still unfolding.

Read Jane Arraf’s tribute to Yasser here: The dashing Yasser

Read Al Jazeera roving correspondent Imran Khan’s tribute here: Adieu Yasser Faysal al-Joumaili

Read Al Jazeera senior producer Omar al-Saleh’s tribute here: Remembering my friend, Yasser

More from Features
Most Read