Held hostage

The body of a Canadian who died fighting ISIS is being held for ransom, his family says

The body of a Canadian who died fighting ISIS is being held for ransom, his family says

The body of a young Canadian man who was killed during an attack by Islamic State militants is being held for ransom by the terror group, although efforts to bring him home are underway, according to his family and members of the Toronto Kurdish community. 

Nazzareno Tassone, 24, joined the Kurdish militia group known as the YPG last year and was killed in December during an IS attack that also left three of his fellow YPG fighters dead, including 20-year-old British citizen Ryan Lock. According to a YPG media release published Tuesday, the attack happened north of IS stronghold Raqqa.

“The YPG is doing the negotiations for all the bodies and the Kurdish community is going to pay for everything they need to do to get the bodies back,” Giustina Tassone said in an interview from her home in Niagara, Ontario. She added that while she hasn’t been informed about the details of the negotiations, the YPG has declined her family’s offer to help pay IS for Tassone’s body and the costs associated with repatriation. She estimates the costs of that, excluding IS’s price tag, is around $20,000. It’s not unusual for IS to hold out for money for the fighters they kill, especially Western ones.

A spokesperson for the YPG who would only identify himself as Zagros told VICE News in a telephone call from an unknown location that they “still don’t have the body but we are still trying to get it from some connections that we have but we cannot confirm when and where.”

He wouldn’t say much else, because all the information he could disclose is outlined in the press release, but added that most of the time their fighters will remove the bodies of their fallen “comrades” from the battlefield, but it was impossible for them to do so in the attack that killed Tassone.

Tassone left his home in Edmonton last June to join the YPG, unbeknownst to anyone in his family, all of whom thought he was going to Iraq to teach English. Giustina said the family found out about his death on Tuesday after reading a National Post story that broke the news, and had never heard about the YPG before then.

“We’re all feeling a lot of hurt,” said Giustina, who added that she was very close with her brother, who was three years older than her. As a child, she always looked up to him for protection.

She said Tassone grew up “loving the army,” but didn’t want to go through the application process to join. Instead, he spent a lot of time devoted to live-action role playing (LARPing) with nerf guns. Over the last couple of years, he would often talk about how upset he was at the brutality carried out by IS militants, but she never imagined he would do anything about it.

“He always wanted to do the right thing, and looking back, he took what ISIS was doing very seriously.”

As the negotiations unfold, Giustina and her family are doing everything they can from home to raise awareness and get help. She started a Facebook campaign and says she will be calling her local member of Parliament and Canada’s federal foreign affairs department every day until his body gets released. Giustina says she has also been in touch with the Canadian embassy in Turkey as it’s believed her brother’s body is located at the border with Syria.

“It’s a big honour for us and the community, and we appreciate what he did, and so we have to show respect for the family.”

Tassone is the second Canadian to be killed while fighting with YPG soldiers, who have attracted help from a large number of volunteers from Western nations around the world, despite government warnings about death and injury.

In 2015, 32-year-old John Gallagher from Ontario was killed on the battlefield in Syria. Unlike Tassone, Gallagher had served with the Canadian Armed Forces, but left in 2005. After his body was returned to Canada, his casket was driven in a procession along Ontario’s “Highway of Heroes,” although not with military personnel as is custom in traditional military funeral processions.

Ihsan Kaya, a member of the Toronto Kurdish Community center, told VICE News that his group was first informed about Tassone’s death by the YPG on Tuesday, just as they were after Gallagher’s death. He said his group helped cover Gallagher’s funeral costs and will do the same with Tassone.

“He fought for the Kurds in the name of humanity, it’s a very big thing to leave your home, especially in Canada, and to join the YPG to fight against ISIS,” Kaya said. “It’s a big honour for us and the community, and we appreciate what he did, and so we have to show respect for the family.”

The department for Global Affairs wouldn’t say whether it was aware of any negotiations for Tassone’s body, but a spokesperson told VICE News that Canadian officials have reached out to the family and are providing them with consular assistance “during this difficult time.” No other information was provided on the matter due to “privacy considerations.”

A group of other Canadians who have fought with the YPG are hosting an event at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Ottawa next week to commemorate Tassone.

Cover: Photo via Bring Nazzareno Home Facebook page.

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