British citizen fighting with Kurds killed in Syria

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2015 9:12 AM
British citizen fighting with Kurds killed in Syria

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — A British citizen fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State group has been killed in Syria, a Kurdish commander said Wednesday.

Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, an ex-Royal Marine, was shot dead March 2 in the front-line village of Tel Khuzela, Kurdish commander Redor Khalil told The Associated Press.

Another foreign fighter battling with the Kurds, American Jordan Matson, said he was with the body on Wednesday and was working on getting the remains back to Britain.

"We're trying to make contact with his mother to see what her wishes are," Matson told the AP Wednesday. "Otherwise, he wished to be buried here under an olive tree."

Matson said on his Facebook page that Scurfield also had Greek citizenship and had served in the Greek army and as a British Royal Marine. Scurfield was 25 years old.

Dozens of foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and neighboring Iraq to fight with Kurdish militias battling the Islamic State group. Matson and four other foreign nationals told the AP last month that they arranged to join Kurdish forces through the Facebook page run by the People's Protection Units, or YPG, the main Kurdish militia fighting in northern Syria.

At least one other foreign fighter, Australian Ashley Johnson, who went by the name of Ase, is known to have been killed fighting alongside the Kurds.

The Islamic State group, which currently holds territory in a third of Iraq and Syria, has recruited thousands of foreign fighters, mainly from Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Scurfield's parents, Chris and Vicci Scurfield, are archeologists who live in a former farmhouse in the village of Royston. In an interview with Sky News on Wednesday, his mother said the family is "reeling" from the news.

"His flame might have burned briefly but it burned brightly with love, courage, conviction and honor, and we are very proud of him," the family later said in a media statement.

The British Foreign Office said it is aware of reports that a British national died in Syria.

"As we do not have any representation in Syria it is extremely difficult to get any confirmation of deaths or injuries and our options for supporting British nationals there are extremely limited," it said.

Dan Jarvis, the local member of parliament from Barnsley Central, where Scurfield is from, said Wednesday that the Briton traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid.

"My understanding was that he went there for honorable reasons," Jarvis told Sky News. "There are other ways in which people who have these legitimate concerns can make a contribution, supporting charities or NGOs."

"The advice is rightly not to go there," Jarvis added.

Neither the U.S. nor the U.K. have banned citizens from fighting with militias against the Islamic State group, though both consider the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, a terrorist organization. The PKK, which waged a long and bloody insurgency against Ankara, is believed to have close ties to the YPG and is fighting alongside it in northern Iraq and in Syria.

Australians are forbidden by law from fighting with any force outside of the Australian national army. Australia was also one of the first countries to criminalize travel to Syria's al-Raqqa province, where the Islamic State group has established the de facto capital of its self-styled caliphate.

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Kirka reported from London.