November 5, 2015 5:35 pm
Updated: November 5, 2015 7:19 pm

John Gallagher: Here’s what we know about the Canadian killed while fighting ISIS in Syria

A photo of John Gallagher posted to his Facebook page on Oct. 30.

John Gallagher/Facebook
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The mother of former Canadian soldier John Robert Gallagher confirmed on Facebook her 32-year-old son was killed in an ISIS suicide bomb attack in Syria.

“[John] thought this was such an important fight and he has always been a man of principle, who believed very strongly in human rights and justice. I am very, very proud of him and his sisters and I love him very much,” his mother, Valerie Carder of Wheatley, Ont., wrote.

Speaking to Global News, Gallagher’s mother said he was “passionate about doing what he thought was right.

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“There’s so many things that people don’t know and I really appreciate that people are proud of him and are admiring that he had the courage to not just talk a good talk but actually act on his principles because he really, really tried to do the right thing,” she said.

READ MORE: Mother of Canadian killed in Syria says he ‘really tried to do the right thing’

Gallagher, who once served in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, left Canada at the end of April to fight alongside Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq. He then travelled over the border into Syria in July, to take up arms with the Kurdish militia known as the YPG.

His mother encouraged his friends and followers to read a lengthy note posted on his Facebook page in May, in which Gallagher explained he was “prepared to give my life in the cause of averting the disaster we are stumbling towards as a civilization.”

“Only by destroying ISIS without mercy can we discredit the idea, and force the would-be jihadis and fellow-travelers to give up their insane dreams of a new Mecca and join the modern world.”

But, according to the post, he was driven not just by a desire to rid the world of ISIS but also the sovereignty of Kurdistan; Kurdish-controlled or inhabited areas cover parts of northern Iraq, northern Syria, Turkey and Iran.

“The cause of a free and independent Kurdistan is important enough to be worth fighting for all on its own. The Kurdish people are the largest ethnicity in the world without a country of their own, and have suffered enormously under the boot-heel of regional powers.”

What happened to John Gallagher?

The U.K.-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was the first to report Wednesday the details of Gallagher’s death in suicide attack in the countryside of al-Hool area in Al-Hasakah province.

Al-Hasakah province, which borders northern Iraq and Turkey, is home to a large Kurdish population. Just a day before details of Gallagher’s death emerged, Kurdish militias reported making gains against ISIS near al-Houl.

The YPG issued a statement Thursday, saying Gallagher was a “martyr.”

What did Gallagher say about his time in Iraq and Syria

His Facebook page contains a series of candid photos and posts from his time in Iraq and Syria, describing a bout with salmonella poisoning and encephalitis, enduring the desert heat, and his aged assault weapon.

A composite of photos from John Gallagher's Facebook page.

John Gallagher/Facebook

Maclean’s interviewed Gallagher in July. He wasn’t fazed by the sounds of gunfire in the distance when speaking to a reporter.

“These guys aren’t going to quit until their dead, which makes it pretty easy to justify fighting against them with everything we’ve got in our arsenal as far as I’m concerned.”

Why is he not in the Canadian Forces?

In that same interview, he described why he left the Canadian Forces in 2005.

Gallagher, who had served a tour in Bosnia, said his decision to not sign another three-year contract was driven by the fact he’d be staying in Canada and training.
“That made my decision easy. I got out of the military.”

That wasn’t the case in the end and a year later his battalion was on the ground in Afghanistan. Some of them never came home.

“Psychologically, I guess that makes it pretty easy to explain why a lot of us are here. We feel like there’s more that we could be doing. We feel like we haven’t done enough.”
Even in his Facebook post, he described wanting to be in action.

Proud of being in battle

Gallagher showed a great deal of pride in what he was able to do on the front lines with the YPG, describing it as a “privilege.”

His most recent update from Syria, to his family, friends and supporters at home, was posted Oct. 30.

strong>PLEASE NOTE: An earlier version of this post identified John Robert Gallagher’s mother as Valerie Gallagher. His mother’s name is Valerie Carder.

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