AFP freelancer wins Pulitzer for feature photography

An Agence France-Presse freelancer on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for a stunning image of two Syrian rebel fighters holed up in a sniper's nest.

The photo, taken last October by Javier Manzano in the war-torn country's largest city Aleppo, was hailed by the prize committee as "extraordinary." It was the second year in a row that AFP has won a Pulitzer for photography.

Manzano's picture shows the men gripping assault rifles, one of them lining up a shot with his barrel peeking out of the hideout as light beams in at different angles through more than a dozen bullet and shrapnel holes.

The men appear isolated in darkness, with only a corrugated tin wall behind them and several large sacks stacked against it and some Arabic writing etched on another wall in front, as the slender shafts of light peer in.

"The dust from more than one hundred days of shelling, bombing and firefights hung in the air," reads the caption on the photo as it appears on the Pulitzer website.

Manzano, born in Mexico and based in Istanbul, Turkey, wrote in a blog post last year about the situation on the ground when he took the picture.

"Face-to-face combat is rare. The regime relies instead mostly on tanks, indirect fire (mortars and artillery), airplanes and snipers," he said.

"Both sides rely heavily on snipers, who play a deadly cat & mouse game across the city."

Manzano was on assignment and not immediately reachable for comment Monday on winning one of the biggest honors in the US world of news and letters.

The photographer, who left for the United States at the age of 18, has focused much of his work on issues involving the US-Mexican border. He began his career in the newspaper industry as a photo and videojournalist, and later got into television and electronic media.

He has been a freelancer covering the drug war in Mexico and the wars in Afghanistan and Syria since his last employer, The Rocky Mountain News, shut down in 2009, the Pulitzer site said.

The victory by Manzano -- who submitted the photo to the Pulitzer jury himself -- comes a year after AFP photographer Massoud Hossaini scooped a Pulitzer honor for breaking news photography.

Hossaini, an Afghan national, was awarded the prize for his "heartbreaking image of a girl crying in fear after a suicide bomber's attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul."

In other Pulitzer prizes announced on Monday, the award for international reporting went to David Barboza of the New York Times for what the jury called his "striking exposure" of corruption at high levels of the Chinese government, including vast wealth amassed by relatives of former prime minister Wen Jiabao.

The New York Times won a total of four prizes. Its other awards were for investigative reporting, explanatory reporting and feature writing.

The prize for breaking news reporting went to the staff of the Denver Post for its coverage of a mass shooting last year at a movie theater in Colorado that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded at the opening of a Batman movie.

The fiction award went to "The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson, which the jury praised as "an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart."