'Will do my best,' Edmonton man vowed before his death in battle against ISIS

An Edmonton man killed fighting ISIS in Syria vowed to do his best before heading into his final battle, despite poor equipment and airstrikes, and seeing friends die in explosions right in front of him.

'Just please get my son home," says mother of Nazzareno Tassone, 24, who died in Syria

Kurdish soldiers plan to commemorate Nazzareno Tassone's memory in a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday.

An Edmonton man killed fighting ISIS in Syria vowed to do his best before heading into his final battle, despite poor equipment, airstrike attacks and seeing friends die in explosions.

That's according to social media messages shared by a friend the 24-year-old fighter regularly confided in while overseas.

Mike Webster last heard from Nazzareno Tassone on Nov. 12, 2016.

Tassone, who left Edmonton in June to join the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG), told Webster at the time he was heading to Raqqa, Syria, in two days, according to messages in a conversation posted on Facebook.

"Will do my best," he wrote to Webster, a former reservist who lives in Brantford, Ont. "Hopes are low."

Nazzareno Tassone's last message to Mike Webster before he was killed in an ISIS attack on Dec 21.

On Tuesday, a YPG statement hailed Tassone as a hero and martyr killed in action in Raqqa on Dec 21.

Fellow YPG soldiers have announced plans on Facebook to commemorate his memory and sacrifice in Ottawa on Monday morning, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Their post offers additional details surrounding the death of Tassone, also referred to by his Kurdish name, Agir Ararat, who was killed along with British volunteer Ryan Lock.

The post explains Tassone died "after a fight in the desert against terrorists" during an operation aimed at the liberation of Raqqa. He "fell under the bullets" of ISIS, referred to as Daesh, the post adds.

'He's our hero'

Tassone's sister and mother learned of his death when police and representatives of the Toronto Kurdish community visited their Niagara home. The family is now lobbying federal officials for the return of Tassone's body, which they say is still in the possession of ISIS militants.

"Just please get my son home," said mother Tina Martino tearfully in an interview with CBC News Wednesday.
Tassone's mother, Tina Martino wonders why her son's remains have yet to be recovered from Syria. (CBC)

Martino recalled how she dropped him off at the airport in June, after paying for his ticket. She believed he was on his way to Turkey to teach English, and said she would have tried to talk him out of it if she knew otherwise.

'He's our hero. He really is. As much as it hurts, the pain. This is him, this is what he wanted.- Nazzareno Tassone's mother

"But he knew what he wanted and whatever he wanted he was going to do it," said Martino, explaining it had been Tassone's lifelong dream to join the army. "He's our hero. He really is. As much as it hurts, the pain. This is him, this is what he wanted."

In a statement Global Affairs Canada said Canadian officials have contacted the family to provide consular assistance, but declined to provide further details. 

The statement warns: "Canadians who travel to Syria and Iraq do so at their own personal risk. Due to the unpredictable security situation, the Government of Canada's ability to provide consular assistance in all parts of Iraq and Syria is severely limited. That being said, we will do our best to assist the family through this difficult time."

One body recovered

One body from the Dec. 21 battle has been recovered, said Hanna Bohman, a Canadian who volunteers with the YPJ, the all-female Kurdish militia faction. It's not yet clear if it is Tassone or Lock.

Bohman, based in Vancouver where she assists Kurdish refugee families, spent 15 months serving with the YPJ, mostly as a sniper and soldier. During her second tour just over a year ago, she escorted Canadian John Gallagher's body out of Rojava. He was repatriated two weeks later. 

She said the Kurdish soldiers will do "everything they can" to ensure the bodies of fallen soldiers are recovered.

"They will actually attack their positions and fight them to get the bodies back," said Bohman, adding it could involve paying ransom money or trading prisoners. "They could end up getting themselves killed trying to rescue the bodies, that's the kind of people the Kurds are."
Hanna Bohman (right) at the funeral procession of fellow Canadian John Gallagher

Bohman said she has been contacted by many Canadians, as well as other westerners, interested in joining the Kurdish forces. In September, 20-year-old Shaelynn Jabs left Drayton Valley, Alta for her second tour. 

Bohman said she understands the appeal of joining the fight against ISIS, recalling what first drew her to the Kurdish cause.

"I really identified with the YPJ, the woman's revolution," said Bohman. "They're trying to create an equal society for all genders."

She added: "I was really upset with what ISIS was doing and how our governments were doing really nothing to stop it."

She suggested the Canadian government could support the YPG by providing training and better equipment. But what's ultimately needed is a better understanding of YPG efforts to create an egalitarian, secular society as well as Turkey's role as"trouble maker in the region," Bohman said.

"They're actively trying to exterminate the Kurds," she said. "And that's where our government is failing. It's not telling us the whole truth of what's going on over there."

Webster said he learned of Tassone's death Tuesday after a YPG representative contacted him on Facebook in search of the dead man's family members.

"I think he had a real bright future," Webster told CBC News."It's just such a shame."

Injured and in need of armour

Webster began communicating on social media with Tassone about a year ago because of their shared passion for all things military.

"If people don't do something, then those pigs are gonna run free and it's just a matter of time till something really, really bad happens," Tassone wrote to Webster in a message a month before his departure, asking the reservist for advice on the battlefield.

Once there, the exchanges touched on Tassone's experiences on the frontline.

"Bloody. Extremely. One word. Manbij," wrote Tassone, referring the battle at Manbij that recaptured the city just south of the Turkish border in August after a 73-day offensive.

At least 400 civilians were reported to have been killed in the battle. The Syrian Democratic Forces, largely made up of YPG, lost nearly 300 fighters.

In other Facebook exchanges, Tassone complained of poor equipment, explaining he had bartered for upgrades to his rifle. But Tassone seemed undeterred, even after being injured and losing two friends in an airstrike.

Tassone said he had no plans to leave until ISIS was defeated.

"Anyone who shoots at my Hevel (comrade) makes an enemy of me. Stick together out here or die."

@andreahuncar     @roberta__bell 

(with files from Briar Stewart, Ariel Fournier)