The Kurdish People’s Defense Units, also known as YPG, said in a statement that Nazzareno Tassone, 24, died in the city of Raqqa on Dec. 21.
Tassone’s younger sister, Giustina Tassone, said her family learned of his death from a letter they received from the YPG on Tuesday.
“I came home and there was a police officer, and the Canadian Kurdish Community was at my house,” Giustina said Wednesday from the Niagara Falls, Ont. area. “They handed over a letter from the YPG saying that Dec. 21 my brother was killed.”
She said the letter calls her brother a “daring and courageous companion” and notes that his body was taken by Islamic State militants.
Giustina, 21, said her brother left Canada in June, adding he was heading to Iraq and Turkey to teach English.
She added that while her family suspected he might get involved in the conflict against ISIS — because of his interest in “fighting for what was right” — the news of his death was what confirmed his involvement with the Kurdish fighters.
Nazzareno Tassone grew up in Keswick, Ont., but had been living in Edmonton earlier last year and was working as a security guard, his sister said.
“As kids my brother was a major goofball,” she said. “He always knew how to make me laugh, how to make the whole family laugh.”
In June, he decided to leave Canada, telling his family he was headed to Iraq and Turkey to teach English, she said.
“We all had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn’t going to just teach English, that he was also probably going to go ahead and join the army,” she said.
“He loved fighting for what was right and he believed that all humans deserve the same rights no matter the colour of your skin.”
Tassone’s sister and mother last saw him at Toronto’s Pearson airport before he left, his sister said. Once he was in the Middle East, he only had intermittent Internet access but used to send his mother the occasional Facebook message to let her know he was fine.
In early July, Tassone posted a message on Facebook saying “Internet will cut out soon so if I disappear again, don’t worry….just the Middle East.” A few days later he posted “still alive.”
Tassone had been interested in the military from a young age and had tried to join the Canadian Forces but had a chest condition and his application was denied, his sister said.
“My brother was very involved in the military news kind of thing and he always had an opinion on something,” she said. “This was just my brother fighting for what was right.”
Giustina said she’s been in contact with international affairs in Ottawa and has spoken with her MP’s secretary in hopes of bringing her brother’s body safely back to Canada. She said she will do everything in her power to bring her brother’s body home, including calling the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I just want him home… I know none of my family can move on until we know he’s here,” she said. “It’ll mean everything. It’ll mean closure. It’ll mean having our family together again.”
The family has also started a Facebook group titled “Bring Nazzareno Tassone Home.” The YPG is the main Kurdish guerrilla group battling the Islamic State in Syria.
A Global Affairs spokeswoman said 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,” Kristine Racicot said in an email.
“That being said, we will do our best to assist the family through this difficult time.”
Watch: A Canadian man with ties to Edmonton has been killed in Syria. He was part of Kurdish forces fighting against ISIS. As Kent Morrison reports, his family wants his body returned home.
With files from Caley Ramsay
© 2017 The Canadian Press