Bradley Hope, the young Cairo correspondent for Abu Dhabi’s The National, had only been in Libya for a week when he found a career-making story: Chris Jeon, the 21 year-old UCLA student who had joined up the rebel fight in Libya on a solo vacation.
Mr. Hope and his colleagues hired a driver and pushed along the coast, trying to get as close as possible to Sirte, where rebels and loyalists were amassing for an anticipated battle or surrender.
“We hardly expected to get as far as this little town called An Nawfiliyah and, once there, we only found rebels in pick-up trucks with machine guns. Another journalist was wearing a flak jacket because he thought the area was unsafe. Then I saw my colleague Kristen Chick from the Christian Science Monitor at this circle of cheering men. I grabbed my notebook and found this unbelievable kid who had made it all the way to the front line,” Mr. Hope wrote The Observer in an e-mail from Libya.
Mr. Hope’s story was remarkably detailed: Mr. Jeon was still wearing a Los Angeles basketball jersey, had purchased a one-way ticket to save money in the event of his capture, and had been given a nickname, Ahmed El Maghrabi Saidi Barga, which combines tribal and geographic nouns into the Arabic phrase he knows, and repeats, to rebel cheers.
“Whatever you do, don’t tell my parents,” Mr. Jeon asked Mr. Hope. “They don’t know I’m here.”
The Observer asked Mr. Hope if he acquiesced.
“We informed the local US consulate about him, and they have his name,” Mr. Hope told The Observer in an e-mail message. “We have terrible access to the internet here and sporadic phone reception, so we didn’t have a chance to speak to his family or anyone back in California.”
A reporter for Al Jazeera tweeted that rebels were “fed up” with Mr. Jeon and he had been sent home, but the latest reports from Mr. Hope say he’s still the celebrated mascot of Libyan rebels.
Prior to The National, Mr. Hope was a crime reporter for The New York Sun. He graduated from NYU in 2006 and lives in Brooklyn.