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Shrapnel wound to the head killed Canadian man while fighting ISIS: autopsy report

Flowers and photos lie on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following a memorial to Nazzareno Tassone, who was killed on Dec. 21 while fighting alongside the Kurdish People's Defense Units, Monday January 9, 2017 in Ottawa.
Flowers and photos lie on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following a memorial to Nazzareno Tassone, who was killed on Dec. 21 while fighting alongside the Kurdish People's Defense Units, Monday January 9, 2017 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Nazzareno Tassone, the Canadian killed while fighting the Islamic State in Syria six months ago was fatally struck in the head by shrapnel, the Ontario coroner’s office told his family on Monday.

Tassone, 24, was buried in Niagara Falls, Ont. last week but the preliminary autopsy results released to his mother offer a new explanation of his death.

The coroner found a three-millimetre hole in Tassone’s skull and shrapnel lodged deep inside, his mother, Tina Martino, told Global News.

“I asked if it was a bomb that killed him and he said yes, most likely,” she said.

The finding is at odds with the autopsy report written last month by an Iraqi doctor, who concluded Tassone had been struck in the back of the head by a “heavy solid instrument.”

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READ MORE: Body of Canadian man killed while fighting ISIS in Syria returned home

The Toronto coroner also downplayed the Iraqi doctor’s suggestion that Tassone had been tortured with cigarettes and ropes placed around his neck.

Circular skin marks the Iraqi coroner thought were cigarette burns were more likely made by insects. “He thinks it from bugs, not cigarette burns,” Martino said.

A former rail worker who had wanted to join the Canadian military, Tassone left Edmonton a year ago to enlist with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Kurdish armed group that has been battling ISIS in northern Syria.

On Dec. 21, ISIS attacked his position in a rural area of Raqqa province and he was killed along with a British volunteer fighter, Ryan Locke, and three Kurds.

His mother was at first told her son had been shot, and an autopsy conducted in Erbil, Iraq after his body was recovered from ISIS said he had been tortured.

READ MORE: Canadian killed fighting ISIS in Syria remembered as a ‘hero’

But the autopsy conducted upon his return to Toronto is the first credible indication of what happened.

The Ontario coroner is still investigating the marks the Iraqi doctor thought were burns but has found no evidence Tassone was tortured, Martino said.

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In addition to the fatal head wound, Tassone had also been struck in the index finger by shrapnel, the coroner told Martino.

Hundreds of Western volunteers have joined Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, including several dozen Canadians, two of whom have died since 2015.

Last Wednesday, a motorcade escorted Tassone’s casket from Toronto to Niagara Falls, where hundreds of mourners packed a church for a service.