Featured Documentaries

Syria: The Last Assignment

Cameraman Yasser al-Jumaili’s unseen footage takes us into the lives of Syrian rebels – but he pays the ultimate price.

This film tells us a story we were not supposed to hear. In it, we see images we were not supposed to see.


by ”Jane

it’s people like Yasser, a person with a family, producing those images.”]

On November 20, 2013, Iraqi freelance cameraman Yasser Faisal al-Jumaili crossed the Turkish border into Syria with his trusted Syrian fixer Jomah Alqasem.

The Syrian war had been raging for two-and-a-half years and now saw the various rebel groups splitting one from another, mostly around ideological differences.

The assignment was to access the groups and build a picture of who these men were, away from rhetoric, both on and off duty on the frontlines.

For 13 days in Syria, the two reporters filmed the men behind the frontlines: fighters with the Free Syrian Army, Al-Tawhid Brigade, Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar Al-Sham, and even ISIL.

Now, in this film, only Jomah lives to tell the tale of their last assignment together. His account of their journey vividly portrays the fragility of being embedded in a fast-changing war environment.

Through his story we discover the fascinating highs and lows of Yasser’s final assignment. What makes this access extremely rare is Yasser’s knack of getting these terrifying groups to let us into their casual, off-duty lives.

Perhaps too close.

On December 4, 2013, as they tried to leave Syria by road, their car was stopped and Yasser was shot multiple times. His killers remain unknown.

In this Al Jazeera exclusive, we discover Yasser – the journalist and the man – from moving accounts of those who knew him best professionally, including Al Jazeera’s own correspondents Omar al-Saleh, Jane Arraf and Imran Khan.

But Yasser’s unique footage, and own mobile phone diary, later smuggled out of Syria by friends and colleagues, stands here as the greatest testament.


By Rashed Radwan

Making a documentary can take us to unknown territories and situations.

But Syria wasn’t an unknown territory for me.

I was born in Spain, but Damascus was the place where my mother was born and where I spent some of the most beautiful days of my childhood.

When I watched on TV how the alleys of the old Damascus were being destroyed, my grandmother’s house half destroyed and even my grandparents tombs disappearing under the rubble, I wanted to tell the story of that war.

It made me call my old friend Yasser Faisal and ask him if he was ready to go on this venture with me. He went through a similar situation and he knew how war can be an ugly place. I knew he could put himself in my shoes and tell the story through his eye.

He saw his country being destroyed and Iraqi people seeking refugee in neighbouring Syria, so telling the Syrian story was a duty for him, he used to say. Yasser was a freelancer. At that time Iraq had already lost its place in the headlines. That is the tragedy of so many freelancers like Yasser.

Many of you reading these lines saw the war in Iraq through Yasser’s pictures. Now he wanted to contribute to tell the tragedy the Syrians were living through.

After getting some assignments from different media outlets and buying a new camera he left Baghdad to Turkey and on November 18, 2013, I met him in Hatay, near the Syrian border. I was ready to go inside Syria with him but Yasser was always cautious about security and he asked me to stay because my Spanish passport could put him and Jomah, the fixer, in danger.

I told him to think twice about the dangers before entering but he said: ‘I should go! There’s no other way for a freelancer than taking advantage of other’s fears and get the story.’

I remember he had that light in his eyes that I saw so many times when he was telling me the story of his hometown Falujah or showing me the footage of a sunset over his destroyed city.

We said goodbye a few metres away from the border, with the promise of being in touch several times a day by satellite phone. And in the days after that November morning we were in touch. We spent several hours a day talking, discussing what was going on inside Syria, and Yasser was happy. He felt at home, welcomed by the Syrians. He felt like the son of a similar tragedy. Just like them …

Days before his death he had some trouble with his equipment and we agreed he should leave immediatly. He was on the way to do a last interview and leave Syria in a couple of hours when he was killed.

The flight that took me from Madrid to Hatay was probably the worst flight of my entire life. Deep inside my heart I had that hope that I would arrive in Hatay and see Yasser alive and laughing, making fun of me.

I could not imagine how to tell the horrible news to his family, to his three children. “Why?” was the only question I had inside my head all the time – and it is the one that is still unanswered.

After four or five days of struggling with bureaucracy we were able to rescue Yasser’s body from Syria and send him home to be buried. Even in tragedies a passport matters. Many of the officials had doubts about what Yasser, an Iraqi young man, was doing in Syria and it took some time to clear up their doubts.

With a Western passport it wouldn’t have been an issue … And with a big media outlet behind him he wouldn’t have had those problems to get home – but he was a freelancer.

Finally, with the help of Al Jazeera and countless friends Yasser was sent home and buried in his beloved Falujah.

Syria: The Last Assignment is probably the most difficult documentary in my entire career. Because a friend was killed without a reason, a victim of a dirty war. Because a freelancer died and nobody will pay the price, except him and his family. Because three small children lost their father and will never find a reason that can comfort them.

Because nobody, from all those people that were asking Yasser to risk his life in order to bring them exclusive footage was honest enough to show their faces and assume their responsibilities in front of the family.

Yasser was planning to move to Abu Dhabi with his family after his assignment in Syria. He wanted to give them the chance to live in a peaceful country, something that his children have never known. His family is now displaced, far away from their hometown. And he cannot help them anymore, comfort his children when the sound of guns wakes them up during the night.

Someone decided he should die before bringing the story out of Syria. But they, the killers, whoever they are, forgot one thing: Yasser knew how a war can be tricky and he always made sure that – in case something happened to him – the footage was safe.

They killed the messenger but his message survived. That precious hard disk with Yasser’s story of the Syrian war was smuggled out of Syria days after his death.

I should remember here the words of an italian freelancer, Francesca Borri, reporting from Aleppo: “People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the stories she is most fascinated by …. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay … the only story to tell in war is how to live without fear. It all could be over in an instant. If I knew that, then I wouldn’t have been so afraid to love, to dare, in my life…”

By the way, my grandmother’s house no longer exists. It is now a pile of rubble covering part of my life story. My dear Yasser, my beloved friend, rest in peace.