Edmonton man killed while fighting ISIS in Syria

An Edmonton man has been killed in an ISIS attack while fighting for the YPG Kurdish forces in Syria, according to YPG officials.

Nazzareno Tassone 'loved guns and fighting for what was right,' sister says

Nazzareno Tassone, 24, was killed on Dec. 21 in the city of Raqqa, while fighting alongside the Kurdish People's Defense Units. (Frank Tassone)

An Edmonton man has been killed in an ISIS attack while fighting for the YPG Kurdish forces in Syria, according to YPG officials.

Nazzareno Tassone, 24, was killed Dec. 21 near Raqqa, Syria, his family and YPG officials say.

Nazzareno Tassone's younger sister, Giustina Tassone, said leaders from the Kurdish community in Toronto, accompanied by police, delivered the news in person to their Niagara home Tuesday afternoon.

"We were hoping that everything would be OK," Tasson​e told CBC News. "We were optimistic. But with everything that's going on over there, we kind of hoped, but we were all very scared, especially my mom."

Nazzareno Tassone left Edmonton for Turkey last June. He told his family he planned to teach English, but soon he joined the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) in the battle against ISIS. To his family it came as no surprise.

"As a kid he was kind of my hero," said Tassone of her brother, who helped raise her, along with their father. "We spent a lot of time playing together … and a lot of times it had to do with the army and stuff like that.

"My brother loved the army and all things about the war."

ISIS still has body

The family has been told that ISIS still has his body, Tassone said. The family is now lobbying Canadian officials to make a deal to bring him home "so we can lay him to rest," and has launched a Facebook page called Bring Nazzareno Tassone Home.

Photos on Facebook show a smiling Nazzareno after he arrived in Turkey in June. But he offered few details updating his time in the Middle East.

"I am alive," he wrote on July 2. "Update when I can."

And then a second post: "Internet will cut out soon, so if I disappear again, don't worry .... just the Middle East."

A week later a post said that he was "Still alive."

On Tuesday, YPG officials issued a media release confirming Nazzareno's death.
Nazzareno and Giustina Tassone are pictured in their teenage days. (Submitted by family)

Nazzareno's uncle, Frank Tassone, based in Keswick, Ont., expressed shock and grief. He last saw Nazzareno in a video, after he joined the YPG.

"He just had a big smile on his face," Frank Tassone said. "It just made me feel real proud. It made me feel proud that he was in the army … protecting people."

Frank Tassone recalled seeing his nephew in the video kneeling down with his rifle and giving a peace sign. "So that's the last memory I'm going to have of my nephew. A big smile on his face."

'Sad day for Canadians'

Family, friends, colleagues and strangers turned to social media to express grief, condolences and pay their respects.

"It's a sad day for Canadians," wrote Hanna Bohman, a Canadian currently in Vancouver who served with the all-female Kurdish faction known as the YPJ for 15 months.

She referred to Nazzareno by his Kurdish name, Heval Agir. 

Bohman said Nazzareno was killed along with British volunteer Ryan Lock and several Kurdish YPG fighters when their camp was attacked by ISIS fighters.

"Agir is the second Canadian to be killed while aiding the Kurds in the fight for humanity, for all of us," she said, referring to John Gallagher, 32, killed in Syria just over a year ago.

Nazzareno and Gallagher are two of several Canadians who have gone overseas to join the battle against ISIS.

He had a big heart and loved his friends and family dearly.- Giustina Tassone

Prior to that, Nazzareno had worked as a parking patrol officer in Edmonton. His sister said he "loved guns and fighting for what was right" and taught English while fighting.

"He had a big heart and loved his friends and family dearly," Giustina Tassone added.

In her Facebook post Tassone wrote: "Make sure the world knows we loved him and want him home. We won't have a funeral without him."

In October, the YPG joined an Iraq-led offensive, 5,000 soldiers strong, to retake Mosul from ISIS. At the end of December, backed by the U.S-led coalition's airstrikes, they advanced into eastern Mosul in a multi-pronged attack.

"The Canadian people can feel huge pride that one of their own would travel so far and give so much for those in the most need," Macer Gifford, chief executive of Friends of Rojava Foundation, which helps fund hospitals in Rojava, wrote in a Facebook post.

"While the world watched; in Sinjar, Kobane and Aleppo these men decided to act," Gifford added. "Rest in peace Nazzareno. You'll be in our hearts forever."

The YPG media release calls Tassone a hero and expresses condolences to his family.