The U.S. government and the family of a woman from Flint, Michigan confirmed a Syrian state-television report Thursday that she died in the fighting there. The woman, 33-year-old Nicole Mansfield, was killed along with a British citizen and one other person by the Syrian Army, the Syrian news report stated. It displayed pictures of the bodies, weapons, and Mansfield’s passport and driver’s license. According to CNN, state-TV footage showed, in addition to the bodies and a bullet-riddled car, “a hand-drawn map of a government military facility and a flag belonging to the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.” That’s the same group a U.S. Army veteran allegedly joined, leading to his arrest back in March. “I’m sick over it,” Mansfield’s aunt, Monica Mansfield Speelman, told the Detroit Free Press. “I didn’t think she was (a terrorist), but God only knows.”
Mansfield, who grew up Baptist and has an 18-year-old daughter, converted to Islam when she married an immigrant from the Arab world, but they divorced three years ago, the family told the Free Press. They didn’t know the man’s name, where he was from, or why Mansfield might have gone to Syria. “She had a heart of gold, but she was weak minded,” said her grandmother, Carole Mansfield. “I think she could have been brain washed.”
But as one Syrian activist pointed out to the Free Press, it’s important to remember that the Syrian government is big on propaganda. Most of the media there is state-owned, and in the absence of many foreign journalists, that’s where much of the news comes from. The coverage consists largely of triumphant images of soldiers hugging kids and conspiracy theories about foreign aggressors, and this story about Americans and Britons joining with terrorists sure plays to that narrative.
So with the U.S. government still gathering information (it closed the embassy in Syria last February), it’s probably best to hold off on coming to any conclusions about Mansfield until there’s better reporting than we can get from the state media.