Tributes to 'compassionate' World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in Gaza

Three British men were providing security for the World Central Kitchen aid mission alongside a Palestinian and volunteers

Top row: Saifeddin Issam Abu Taha with Damien Sobol, Lalzawmi Frankcom, Jacob Flickinger
Bottom row: John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby. Photos: Abu Taha family / WCK
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Families are mourning the seven victims of the Israeli strike on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy in Gaza.

Relatives of James Kirby, one of the three British victims, paid tribute to the “compassionate nature” that drove him to help people in need.

Mr Kirby, 47, was among seven people killed in the strike on Monday, which also killed Palestinian driver Saifeddin Issam Abu Taha, 25; Australian Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43; Damian Sobol, 35, from Poland; American-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, 33; and fellow Britons James Henderson, 33, and John Chapman, 57.

Ms Frankcom, Mr Sobol and Mr Flickinger all worked for WCK’s relief team, while Mr Chapman, a former member of the British Royal Navy’s elite Special Boat Service, ex-Marine Mr Henderson and Army veteran Mr Kirby were providing security for the World Central Kitchen aid mission on behalf of a UK-based company.

The UK trio reportedly worked for Solace Global, a travel risk management and security services based in Dorset.

Mr Kirby's family said they were “incredibly proud” of everything he had achieved.

“Despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need. A genuine gentleman, James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence,” a family statement said.

“James lost his life trying to save others. He will never know what a void he has left, our family will never be the same.”

Adam Macguire, Mr Kirby’s cousin, told Sky News the bodies of the victims were due to be moved on Wednesday to Cairo and should be back in the UK by the weekend.

He described Mr Kirby as “selfless”.

“He would help anybody, and this is one of the reasons he felt he had to go and work with World Central Kitchen,” he added.

“His friends were telling him this is probably a bad place to go but he had to go and help people. That was James all over. He didn’t think of himself.”

Mr Macguire said he was disappointed by the Israeli leadership's response to the incident.

“For me, this should be a turning point now, that aid should flow into these areas. And I think [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] needs to recognise that you can’t just indiscriminately just hit people who are trying to save people,” he said.

WCK called the strike a “targeted attack” and said its team had been coordinating its movements with the Israeli forces.

The convoy was made up of three vehicles, including two that were armoured. The BBC understands that all three were hit in the strike.

Israel's military chief said on Wednesday the strike was a “grave mistake”.

Since the start of the war in October, the US-based charity had been involved in feeding displaced Gazans, and was one of two organisations spearheading the delivery of food aid arriving by sea.

It said the aid convoy was hit after leaving a warehouse “where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

There are 196 confirmed humanitarian aid worker deaths. They have not received this level [of coverage].
Derek Madsen

The attack, in Deir Al Balah, was widely condemned, with world leaders demanding an investigation.

During a phone call with Mr Netanyahu, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the killings and demanded a thorough and transparent independent investigation.

Britain also summoned the Israeli ambassador to London and demanded “full accountability”.

US President Joe Biden said Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians”.

He called for a “swift” investigation to bring accountability to what he said was not a “stand-alone incident”.

World Central Kitchen workers killed in Israeli strike – in pictures

The incident has underscored a difference in the way the deaths of western aid workers have been reported during the conflict compared to Palestinians.

Derek Madsen, chief development officer at American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera), said a Palestinian staff member of his organisation, a logistics co-ordinator, was recently killed in an Israeli strike after returning to his shelter following a day’s work.

“I think we see the deaths of international humanitarian aid workers covered differently than the deaths of Palestinian workers,” he told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday.

“There are 196 confirmed humanitarian aid worker deaths. They have not received this level [of coverage].

“These people were everything to somebody. Our hope is that this coverage will bring light to a pervasive pattern, something that should not be happening and that appears to be inconsistent with international humanitarian law.”

Who were the aid workers killed in the strike?

James Henderson

Mr Henderson, 33, was a former roofer who served in the Royal Marines for six years. He left the army in 2016 and worked in various security roles before joining GardaWorld, the world’s largest privately owned security services company, in 2022.

He described himself in his LinkedIn profile as a “military professional, who takes the health and safety of others very seriously”.

“A highly disciplined, courteous and proactive individual who is mobile, offers flexibility and is willing to take on any further training necessary to offer the best service possible,” he said.

John Chapman

The 57-year-old was a father of two and reported to have joined the military straight after leaving school.

The former special forces commando left the service about four years ago and had been working in Gaza for a few weeks when he was killed.

“We are devastated to have lost John, who was killed in Gaza,” a family statement said. “He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act. He was an incredible father, husband, son and brother.”

James Kirby

The 47-year-old was also an army veteran, having worked as a sniper marksman and a rifleman.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he had been working with Solace Global for three months.

He described himself as having received “first-class military training in the British Army and has continued to develop core security industry skills in the private sector through formal training and peer-to-peer learning”.

“Maintains a calm demeanour under extreme pressure, including life-threatening situations,” he wrote.

Mr Kirby said he had experience in working in “varied theatres across the globe, both on land and at sea, including hostile and austere locations”.

He added: “Willing and able to work on international assignments, and free to travel as required.”

He previously worked as a close protection officer and a security team leader, as well as a players’ escort for the 2021 Wimbledon tennis championships.

Saifeddin Issam Abu Taha

Mr Abu Taha, 27, had worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver and translator since the beginning of the year, relatives said.

His brothers described him as a dedicated young man eager to help fellow Palestinians.

He had also been a successful businessman who traded with Ukraine, Egypt, China and others, his brother Abdul Razzaq Abu Taha said.

Mr Abu Taha's work meant he was known on the Israeli side, the brother added, which helped with co-ordination and approval for the World Central Kitchen team to unload the aid ship.

He had hoped to get married.

“My mother was looking for a wife for him,” the brother said. “He was supposed to get married if the war didn’t happen.”

Mr Taha and other workers were excited about unloading the food aid, desperately needed in Gaza. The last time he and his brother spoke, he said, they had finished the job and he was heading home.

After hearing about the air strikes, Abdul Razzaq Abu Taha said he tried to call to find out whether his brother was safe.

After many attempts, he said, a stranger answered and told him: “I found this phone about 200 metres away from the car. All of the people inside are killed.”

Lalzawmi Frankcom

Friends and family remembered Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, as a brave, selfless woman whose care for others took her around the globe. For the past five years, she had worked for Washington-based World Central Kitchen, travelling to the US, Thailand and her native Australia.

Relatives described her as an “outstanding human being” who was “killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza.”

Her social media highlighted visits to help those in need in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Romania and Haiti.

World Central Kitchen colleague Dora Weekley, who met Frankcom responding to Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, described Ms Frankcom as “larger than life”.

She recalled when Frankcom was invited to walk a Hollywood red carpet, for a documentary about World Central Kitchen that was nominated for an Emmy.

“She worked all hours, she gave everything, and she believed in helping people who were less fortunate,” Ms Weekley told ABC.

Damian Sobol

Damian Sobol, 36, was a cheerful, friendly and resourceful manager who quickly rose in World Central Kitchen's ranks.

Hailing from the southeastern Polish city of Przemysl and studying hospitality there, Mr Sobol had been on aid missions in Ukraine, Morocco, Turkey and, for the past six months, Gaza.

“He was a really extraordinary guy,” said Marta Wilczynska, of the Free Place Foundation, which co-operates with World Central Kitchen. “We were very proud of him.”

Ms Wilczynska met Mr Sobol on the Polish side of the border with Ukraine, a few days after Russia’s February 2022 invasion. He spoke English well and was a translator, and as a skilled manager, he could organise work in any condition, she said.

“Always smiling, always so helpful, he loved this job. I felt I had a brother in him,” she said.

Free Place Foundation President Mikolaj Rykowski said Mr Sobol was “the man for every task – he could overcome every difficulty.”

Posting on Facebook, Przemyśl Mayor Wojciech Bakun said of Mr Sobol’s death that there are “no words to describe how people who knew this fantastic young man feel now.”

Jacob Flickinger

A dual Canadian-US citizen, Mr Flickinger, 33, was a member of the relief team, World Central Kitchen said. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly made reference to him as she condemned the Israeli strikes on the aid convoy.

“I am horrified to hear reports of the IDF strike taking the lives of seven World Central Kitchen employees in Gaza yesterday, including a Canadian citizen,” she said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said "2e obviously need full accountability and investigation" into the attack.

A GoFundMe page set up for Mr Flickinger's surviving partner and baby said he had been in Gaza since early March. Before working in the Middle East, he worked with WCK in Mexico.

“As the sole financial provider, Jacob’s family will use these funds to sustain themselves temporarily, setting up a trust for his baby boy, and helping with any flights and funeral arrangements,” the fundraising page said.

His father, John Flickinger, wrote on Facebook that his son “died doing what he loved and serving others through his work with the World Central Kitchen”.

Mr Flickinger served in the Canadian military from 2008 to 2019. In 2010, he served in Afghanistan as a rifleman before joining the Royal 22nd Regiment out of Quebec in 2012 as an infantryman.

"We are aware that a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Jacob Flickinger, was confirmed as killed while providing aid in Gaza," a representative for the Canadian military told The National.

"We extend our sincere condolences to their family, friends and former colleagues during this difficult time."

Updated: April 04, 2024, 8:00 AM