World Central Kitchen names ‘seven heroes’ killed in IDF strike on Gaza aid convoy

British, Polish, Australian, Palestinian, American-Canadian volunteers for World Central Kitchen remembered by loved ones for their dedication to the cause

The victims of the IDF strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza (Clockwise from top right):
Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, Damian Soból, Jacob Flickinger, James Kirby, James (Jim) Henderson and John Chapman. (World Central Kitchen/X)
The victims of the IDF strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza (Clockwise from top right): Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, Damian Soból, Jacob Flickinger, James Kirby, James (Jim) Henderson and John Chapman. (World Central Kitchen/X)

An Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza reverberated around the world on Tuesday, as friends and relatives mourned the losses of those who were delivering food in Gaza with the charity World Central Kitchen.

Killed were three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian. Some had traveled the world, participating in aid efforts in the aftermath of wars, earthquakes and wildfires.

WCK identified the victims as Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, from the Palestinian territories; Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43, from Australia; Damian Soból, 35, from Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, from the US and Canada; John Chapman, 57, from the UK; James (Jim) Henderson, 33, from the UK; and James Kirby, 47, from the UK.

Abutaha, Frankcom, Sobol and Flickinger were on WCK’s relief team while Chapman, Henderson and Kirby provided security.

“These are the heroes of World Central Kitchen. These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission. Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories. And we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss — the world’s loss,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said in a statement.

The Daily Mail reported that Henderson from Falmouth, Cornwall, was a former special forces operator and had served in the Royal Marines for six years. A close friend told the news outlet: ‘Everybody is gutted, he was a lovely lad. He hadn’t been out there long, only a couple of weeks.’

According to The Telegraph, Chapman, is believed to have also served in the Royal Marines and was described by his family as an “excellent man.” There was no immediate additional information made public about Kirby.

Abutaha’s brother, Ahmed, confirmed he’d worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver since the beginning of the year.

“He was a dedicated young man,” his brother said.

Another brother described Taha to The New York Times as an enterprising man who spoke good English and had worked in his father’s business.

The last time he saw his brother, he told the newspaper, he and others were so excited about getting to unload the desperately needed food, it was “like they were going to a wedding.”

Friends and family remembered Frankcom as a brave, selfless woman whose care for others drew her across the globe. For the last five years, she’d worked for Washington-based World Central Kitchen, taking her to the United States, Thailand and her native Australia.

“We mourn this fine Australian who has a record of helping out her fellow citizens, whether it be internationally or whether it be through the support that she gave during the bushfires that occurred during that Black Summer,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “She is someone who clearly was concerned about her fellow humanity.”

Relatives and friends mourn the death of Saif Abu Taha, a staff member of the US-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed in an Israeli strike, during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In a statement, relatives described Frankcom as an “outstanding human being” who was “killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza.”

She was born in Melbourne and earned a bachelor’s from the Swinburne University of Technology. For eight years, she worked for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the nation’s largest bank.

Frankcom’s social media highlighted visits to aid 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 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.

“I remember getting a picture of her in a dress, saying, ‘Hold onto this forever,'” Weekley told ABC. “Because usually I’m in sweats and runners, and I’m in Pakistan or Afghanistan or, you know, she could be anywhere, and never with her hair done or makeup done.”

In this undated photo, Zomi Frankcom of Australia, right, one of the seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday, poses for a picture with Mikolaj Rykowski, President of the Free Place Foundation. (Free Place Foundation’s Facebook via AP)

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

Soból was known as a cheerful, friendly and resourceful manager who quickly rose in World Central Kitchen’s ranks.

Hailing from the southeastern Polish city of Przemyśl and studying hospitality there, Soból 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 cooperates with World Central Kitchen. “We were very proud of him.”

Wilczynska met Soból 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 he was a skilled manager who could organize work in any condition, she said.

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

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

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

Damian Sobol in an undated photo (Free Place Foundation’s Facebook via AP)

Once sympathetic WCJ chief excoriates Israel

WCK founder Jose Andres mourned the killing of his employees, tweeting that he was “heartbroken” after the strike.

“These are people… angels. They are not faceless… they are not nameless,” he added.

He also called out the Israeli government for the “indiscriminate killing.”

File: Jose Andres speaks onstage at The New York Times Climate Forward Summit 2023 at The Times Center on September 21, 2023 in New York City. (Bennett Raglin / Getty Images via AFP)

“It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers and stop using food as a weapon,” he added.

The criticism was noteworthy, given that the Spanish-born chef had defended Israel earlier on in the war. WCK set up soup kitchens in Israel to feed those impacted by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught and he subsequently called for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ouster after the premier accused Israel of carrying out a genocide in Gaza.

“As a minister, you must first recognize that Hamas’s attack on Israel is a terrorist act and that Israel … is defending its citizens – then you can ask it for restraint and respect for civilian lives in Gaza,” he tweeted at the time.

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