BEIRUT (AP) — The body of an American who died fighting with Kurdish forces against the Islamic State group in Syria was handed over on Thursday to his family at a Turkish border crossing, a Kurdish official said.
Hundreds of people turned up in the Kurdish town of Kobani to bid farewell to Keith Broomfield before his body was handed over to family at the Mursitpinar gate, said Idriss Naasan.
Broomfield, from Massachusetts, died on June 3 in battle in a Syrian village near Kobani, making him likely the first U.S. citizen to die fighting alongside Kurds against the Islamic State group.
He had joined the People's Protection Units known as the YPG on Feb. 24 under the nom de guerre Gelhat Rumet. The YPG are the main Kurdish guerrilla battling the Islamic State group in Syria.
The U.S. Department of State confirmed Broomfield's death Wednesday but declined to provide any details about the circumstances.
It was not immediately clear who from Broomfield's family was there to receive his body on the Turkish side Thursday. Kurds in Turkey lined the road, waving flags and applauding as the convoy carrying the body drove by.
Family members spoke to the media on Thursday outside their manufacturing business in Bolton, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Boston. They said they hope his body will be brought back to the U.S. on Saturday.
Broomfield's older brother, Andy, said he was shocked when his brother first told him about his plans but eventually understood his decisions.
"He believed in opposing evil," he said. "Somebody needs to stand up and oppose evil."
His father, Tom Broomfield, said Keith Broomfield went to Syria with no contacts and knew it was "a crazy thing to do" but felt strongly that he needed to help in some way.
"He just felt he should be going," Tom Broomfield said.
The fight against the Islamic State group has attracted dozens of Westerners, including Iraq war veterans who have made their way back to the Middle East to join Kurdish fighters, who have been most successful against the extremist group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which keeps track of Syria's war, said more than 400 foreign fighters have joined the YPG to fight the Islamic State group in recent months, including Europeans, Americans, Australian and thousands of Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Iran. It was not possible to independently confirm the figure.
Many are spurred on by Kurdish social media campaigners and a sense of duty rooted in the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, where Islamic State fighters recently have rolled back gains U.S. troops had made.
Previously, a British citizen, an Australian and a German woman were killed fighting with the Kurds.
The YPG on Thursday posted a video that showed Broomfield saying he was in Syria "to do what I can to help Kurdistan. With everything that's been going on, it seems like the right thing to do."
"I just want to help the cause anyway I can," he said.
A YPG statement posted on the group's website said he had a great desire to learn the Kurdish language and understand Kurdish ideology
Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria have successfully pushed back Islamic State group militants from Kobani and scores of nearby villages. More recently, they have closed in on the Islamic State-held town of Tal Abyad, near the Turkish border. The town is the Islamic State group's main access point to Turkey from Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in Syria.
On Thursday, the Kurdish fighters continued advancing toward the northern Syrian town of Tal Abyad, capturing parts of the nearby town of Suluk, the Observatory and YPG said. The fighting in the area has sent thousands of people fleeing into neighboring Turkey in recent days.
Associated Press Writer Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.