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Kurds Hail As Hero First Briton Killed Fighting Islamic State


Members of Britain's Kurdish community wait at Manchester Airport on March 20 for Konstandinos "Kosta" Erik Scurfield, a British man who died fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Members of Britain's Kurdish community wait at Manchester Airport on March 20 for Konstandinos "Kosta" Erik Scurfield, a British man who died fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

As his body was flown home to the United Kingdom on March 20, members of Britain's Kurdish community hailed as a hero Konstandinos "Kosta" Erik Scurfield -- the British man who died fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria earlier this month.

Around 250 members of the Kurdish community gathered outside Manchester Airport to pay their respects to Scurfield, according to Britain's ITV news. The 25-old former U.K. Royal Marine from Barnsley is believed to have died from mortar fire earlier this month when fighting IS militants in northern Syria.

Scurfield was one of several Western volunteers who fought alongside the Kurdish People's Protection Units, known as the YPG, in northern Syria.

Scurfield's mother, Vasiliki Scurfield, said that she was proud of the sacrifice her son made while fighting in Syria.

"Kosta was not a mercenary. He wasn't an out-of-work soldier looking for an adventure or something to do to pass the time. After fulfilling his obligation to Greece by doing his national service there, he joined the Royal Marines and only left his well-paid job there to go to Syria and fight against so-called IS," Vasiliki Scurfield said at a reception in the U.K. parliament on March 18.

According to Vasiliki Scurfield, while in Syria her son worked with Kurdish forces to create a corridor to allow Yezidis trapped on Mount Sinjar to escape the militants and reach northern Syria.

"While participating in this, he administered first aid to an injured colleague and carried him down the mountain to safety, saving his life," Vasiliki said.

It was Scurfield who went to retrieve the body of 28-year-old Ashley Johnston, a former Australian soldier who also died fighting the IS group alongside the YPG, his mother said.

Scurfield wanted to fight IS militants to help protect the "fundamental rights of every human being," his mother Vasiliki added.

Scurfield is believed to be the first British national to be killed fighting against the IS group.

He is not the first or the only Westerner to have died battling alongside the Kurdish YPG in Syria, however.

A German woman, 19-year-old Ivana Hoffmann, was reported killed on March 7 near the town of Tal Tamer in Hasakah province, around 60 kilometers from Kobani.

The Australian veteran Johnston, whose body Scurfield helped retrieve, was reported killed in clashes between the YPG and IS militants on February 26.

Just like Scurfield, Johnston was hailed as a hero by the local Kurdish community in Australia.

A planned hero's send-off for Johnston prompted security authorities in Australia to express concerns that hundreds of other young Australians could be motivated to join the fighting against the IS group.

The Australian Federal Police said in a statement that they were "extremely concerned by the trend of Australians becoming involved in overseas conflicts."

An estimated 100 Westerners are thought to be fighting alongside the YPG in Syria.

The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says these 100 Westerners are from Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Australia, Denmark, the United States, and Canada. Around 10 of the 100 are thought to be U.S. Army veterans.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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