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Syrian civil war claims first British fighter

Ali al-Manasfi, 22, from Acton in west London, was shot dead while travelling with an American woman and a third person in Syria's northern Idlib province.

A friend of rebel fighters who were with Mr al-Manasfi told The Daily Telegraph that the third person was also a British citizen of "British Indian origin". His identity was unknown to the group but his nickname was "Abu Zubeir". Although the report could not be independently verified, a military source in Damascus also said the third person was British. Earlier, it had been reported that he was American.

"They were killed by our armed forces near a canned food factory on Idlib's Harim Road," a Syrian military source told The Daily Telegraph.

"There is a military base near there. In the car we found four guns, and hand grenades, maps of the base and a laptop. We think they were planning to attack it."

Syrian state television broadcast footage of a black Volkswagen Polo car sprayed with bullet holes. It filmed Mr al-Manasfi's passport and the driving licence of Nicole Mansfield, 33, from Michigan in the United States, stating they were "terrorists" - the term used by the regime to describe opposition fighters.

Pictures of the corpses, their bodies riddled with bullets, were also shown on Syrian news networks.

The three were said to have been photographing military positions at the time they were shot, and to have thrown a grenade when challenged.

Mr Manasfi's family, who are originally from Damascus and still have relatives there, said that their son had left London for Syria four months ago, and had been in contact at first. He then "disappeared" a few weeks ago.

"He wasn't religious growing up, but he became very religious, praying a lot at a mosque nearby," his father, Mohammed al-Manasfi, 57, who is separated from his wife, said. He said his son had rarely talked to him about Syria.

"He didn't tell me he was going or why, maybe he felt strongly," he said. "He just moved away."

He added: "We are sitting together in shock. We heard two hours ago, I'm still shaking to know my son has gone."

Ali al-Manasfi was travelling alongside American Nicole Mansfield from Flint in Michigan. Raised a Baptist, Ms Mansfield was believed to have converted to Islam five years ago, and had previously been married to an Arab man.

The photographs on her driver's license showed her wearing a tight hijab or Muslim headscarf.

Her grandmother, Carole Mansfield, told the Detroit Free Press that Nicole had told her "the best way of life was to be a Muslim. And that women should wear scarves - women should always cover their head."

She added that Nicole had "a heart of gold," but was easily influenced by others. "I think she could have been brainwashed," she said.

Miss Mansfield, who had worked in health care for the past ten years, also left behind an 18-year-old daughter, Triana Lynn Mansfield.

Her daughter on Friday posted a memorial message on her mother's Facebook page, saying: "I love you forever and always mom. I will never forget everything you taught me. I will try to not give up on life even though I really want to."

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggested that the three victims had been working with opposition rebels.

A Syrian military source told The Daily Telegraph that the bodies were being kept at the national hospital of Idlib under the protection of a division of the Syrian armed forces.

Idlib city has been under virtual siege by rebel forces who have seized much of the rest of Idlib province, bordering Turkey in Syria's north-west.

In recent days, convoys of fighters have been seen heading south, keen to help other rebels fight off the regime troops currently attacking the town of Qusayr, south-west of Homs, near the Lebanese border.

Photographs from the town posted online yesterday showed the nominal head of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, Col Abduljaber Oqaidi, inside the town, suggesting some had managed to break through.

Though Mr Al-Manasfi is the first Briton known to have been killed while fighting alongside Syrian opposition rebels, he is one of at least 100 British Muslims believed by diplomats to have travelled to wage "jihad" or "holy war" against the Assad regime.

Last week, a British Muslim doctor working in a field hospital in Idlib province, Isa Abdurrahman, 26, was killed by shellfire. Dr Abdurrahman, the son of a dentist, had a position at the Royal Free Hospital in London when he volunteered to join the Hand in Hand for Syria group.

Two Irish citizens have died while fighting, including a 16-year-old Irish Libyan, Shamseddin Gaidan, who became one of the youngest fighting rebels to be killed.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We understand that a British national has been killed in Syria. Their family have been informed and we are providing consular assistance," the spokesperson said.

[Source: By Josie Ensor, Richard Spencer and Ruth Sherlock, The Telegraph, London, 31May13]

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small logoThis document has been published on 03Jun13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.