TORONTO – A Montreal photographer is speaking out after a U.S. news website accused him of inadvertently playing a role in the capture of American journalist Steven Sotloff in Syria last year.
Yves Choquette says he’s the freelance photographer anonymously referred to as “Alex” in a controversial report published Friday on The Daily Beast.
The report alleges the photographer identified his local Syrian guide, commonly called a fixer, to suspected militant Syrians on Facebook.
It says that may have compromised the safety of the American journalist, who worked with the same fixer days later.
Choquette denies the allegations, which he says distort the events of August 2013 and unfairly suggest he’s to blame for the kidnapping.
He says he sought out advice from journalists on a private online group called The Vulture Club in an attempt to find a reliable fixer.
The online report says the photographer contacted up to 30 Syrians on Facebook, choosing those who were shown in pictures holding guns and opposition flags, in his search for a fixer to guide him across the Syrian border from Kilis, Turkey.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Choquette called the report a personal attack “not based on any proof on any real fact” and accused its author, Ben Taub, of making up much of its contents.
“I’m not an adrenaline junkie, I’m 55. I’m not stupid, I prepared this for months and I want to be sure that I do it the safest way that I can,” he said Saturday.
Choquette admits he was inexperienced in the region and it was his first attempt at entering Syria, but said he heeded other journalists’ warnings about the risks involved.
Only the fixer, the online group, Taub and two other local journalists knew of his plans, he said.
“Everything was decided the night before, when I made the appointment with the fixer it was the night before I [went]. It was not a week before so that I started talk to everybody about it, it was the night before and I was in my hotel in Tilis,” he said.
Taub, meanwhile, said he stands by his story but purposely didn’t name the photographer so as not to suggest he directly caused the kidnapping.
“While he made Kilis a more dangerous town than it already was, a lot of factors could have triggered the abduction. It was a dangerous town. People were being watched. Many people had recently disappeared on the road to Aleppo. He is relevant, but he can’t be blamed for what happened,” Taub said.
He said he didn’t give Choquette a chance to respond to the allegations because he thought the photographer would likely “release information he shouldn’t which could endanger more people on the ground.”
Choquette said he doesn’t believe Taub’s explanation.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Photographer said previously he reached out to Radio Free Syria