A French-Moroccan photojournalist and visual artist Leila Alaoui had traveled to Burkina Faso to work on the project to cover women’s rights for Amnesty International. On Monday night, Alaoui and her driver, Mahamadi Ouedraogo, were sitting in a car parked outside the Cappuccino Cafe in Ouagadougou when Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists attacked, according to French authorities. [Pic Credit: AlJazeera]

Reportedly, Al Qaeda-linked militants stormed the cafe, firing on innocents before moving across the street to the Splendid Hotel, where they shot some and took others hostage in an overnight siege that left dozens dead. Security forces stormed in to the luxury hotel hours later.

Alaoui’s work has been displayed around the world, was described as one of the most promising photographers of her generation by Jean-Luc Monterosso, director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. She was 33 and a genius creative person whose beautiful photographs explored themes of migration, cultural identity and displacement.

“There was an internal light that illuminated both her and her work,” said The French culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, confirmed her death on Twitter.

When gunmen opened fire at a hotel and at the Cappuccino Cafe on Friday, Alaoui was shot in the leg and thorax while parked outside the cafe, Amnesty International said in a statement to The New York Times. She had a heart attack after she was taken to a hospital in Ouagadougou.

The North African affiliate of Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the rampage, which killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens more.

An artist who’s known for mixed artistic and documentary styles photography, Alaoui had been assigned for less than a week, working on a series of photographs focused on women’s rights. Her photos have been shown at exhibitions and galleries in Paris, Morocco, New York, Argentina, and throughout Europe, and have appeared in The New York Times and Vogue.

“She was fighting to give life to those forgotten by society, to homeless people, to migrants, deploying one weapon: photography,” Jean-Luc Monterosso, director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and Jack Lang, a former French minister of culture who is now president of the Institut du Monde Arabe, said in a statement.

TheTimes described the town of Ouagadougou as a “sleepy city” where locals and foreigners meet for coffee on a road nicknamed the Champs-Elysees.

Aida Alami, a journalist who was a childhood friend of hers and later her roommate in New York, described Alaoui as a fearless soul.

“I saw her before she left for Burkina Faso, and she said, ‘Don’t worry, I have been to more dangerous places,’ ” she said. “She was so optimistic, she thought that nothing bad could ever happen to her.” “Alaoui was chronicling the plight of sub-Saharan immigrants there, invited me to come join her to meet some. Arriving at her home, I found her surrounded by 40 migrants. She was cooking them dinner”, Ms. Alami recalled to The New York Times.

Alaoui was born in Paris in 1982 and grew up in Marrakesh. She studied photography at the City University of New York before spending time in Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. 

The New York Times / Women In The World / CNN