Oerlemans, a Dutch freelance photographer, was killed October 2, 2016 while covering a battle in the city of Sirte between forces loyal to the United Nations-backed Libyan government and members of the militant group Islamic State. He was working with Dutch reporter Joanie di Rijke, who was on assignment for the Belgian magazine Knack, Gerry Meeuwssen, the magazine’s editorial coordinator, told CPJ by email.
While photographing the front line, Oerlemans was shot in the chest several times by an Islamic State sniper, according to an account published in Knack by de Rijke and news reports that quoted Libyan hospital and government officials.
In her account in Knack, de Rijke said that in the hours before he was killed, she and Oerlemans were following a group of Salafist fighters who were fighting Islamic State. The journalists followed the fighters to a square. Islamic State fighters had made a base in a building a few hundred feet away, and its snipers were shooting into the street. Oerlemans ran across the street with some fighters to photograph the front line, ducking the sniper fire. De Rijke stayed behind. About 10 minutes later she was notified by a phone call from a Libyan contact that he had been hit, at which point she raced to the Misrata field hospital where she learned that Oerlemans had been shot dead.
Oerlemans was shot while running alone across the street, according to de Rijke’s account. The shooting seemed to come from snipers in the building where Islamic State fighters had a base. At least 18 other people were killed in the fighting in Sirte that day, 10 from the Islamic State side and eight from militants fighting against them, according to news reports quoting government officials.
Oerlemans was wearing a flak jacket but one of the bullets hit him in the side of the chest, under his arm. He died instantly, reports said.
Oerlemans was a well-known photojournalist with extensive experience in the Middle East. A photo essay featuring his work in Sirte was published by the Dutch magazine De Volkskrant in July 2016.
In July 2012, Oerlemans was kidnapped by Islamist militants along with British freelance journalist John Cantlie as the pair crossed into Syria from Turkey. The journalists were held for a week before they were rescued by what Oerlemans told the media were anti-government Syrian fighters. Cantlie was kidnapped again in Syria later that year. Since being held hostage he has appeared in several Islamic State videos.