TORONTO — Negotiations are underway to recover the body of a Canadian man killed while fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, a leader of Toronto’s Kurdish community said Thursday.
Nazzareno Tassone, 24, was killed in the city of Raqqa on Dec. 21 while fighting alongside Kurdish forces, according to the Kurdish People’s Defense Units, a U.S.-backed group also known as the YPG.
His family only learned of his death this week when a letter from the YPG was delivered to their Niagara Falls, Ont, home by police and members of the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre.
In that letter, the family also learned that Tassone’s body had been seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Tassone’s sister, Giustina Tassone, pleaded with the Canadian government on Wednesday to help repatriate her brother’s body so the family could have a funeral.
The Toronto Kurdish Community Centre said Thursday that negotiations had begun between the YPG and ISIL to retrieve the Canadian fighter’s body.
“We spoke to (the YPG) this morning and there’s still ongoing negotiations between them,” said centre co-president Ihsan Kaya.
Kaya said the YPG was also negotiating to recover the bodies of other fighters killed in combat on the same day as Nazzareno Tassone, including a British volunteer fighter named Ryan Lock.
“It’s not going to be a short process or an easy process,” he said.
All costs related to retrieving and repatriating Tassone’s body will be covered by the YPG, Kaya said, and the cost of the man’s eventual funeral in Canada will be covered by the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre.
“We’re talking about a person that’s not even Kurdish that left his home country to fight against ISIS for the Kurds and for the name of humanity, so we wanted to show respect,” Kaya said. “We are just grateful for him.”
Tassone left Canada in June, telling his family he was headed to Iraq and Turkey to teach English, his sister has said. But given his long-standing interest in the military, she said the family suspected he might have tried to get involved in the Middle Eastern conflict.
The letter they received Tuesday confirmed their suspicion.
Kaya said the YPG notified the Kurdish community centre in Toronto of Tassone’s death on Dec. 23, but it took time to track down his family and deliver the news in person.
The centre plans to remain in touch with the family as they wait for the man’s body to be brought home, Kaya said.
“Our community is big, over 5,000 people, and everyone is supporting them,” he said.
It’s not the first time the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre has been contacted by the YPG about the death of a Canadian fighter, Kaya said.
The group played a similar supporting role when another Canadian, John Robert Gallagher, was killed in Syria while fighting ISIL with the YPG in late 2015.
A key difference in that case, however, was that Gallagher’s body was already in the hands of the YPG, Kaya said.