Fighter ‘be­lieved in op­pos­ing evil’

Amer­i­can who died in Syria said bat­tling Is­lamic State ‘seems like the right thing to do’

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Alexan­dra Zavis and Kami­ran Sadoun alexan­dra.zavis @la­times.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Sadoun re­ported from Ir­bil and Times staff writer Zavis from Los An­ge­les.

IR­BIL, Iraq — Sev­eral months ago, Keith Broom­field in­formed star­tled rel­a­tives that he had de­cided to join the fight against Is­lamic State.

The 36-year-old Mas­sachusetts na­tive, who worked at the fam­ily man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness, didn’t know any­one in Syria or Iraq and had no bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ence. But he was hor­ri­fied by the atroc­i­ties he saw the Is­lamist mil­i­tants in­flict­ing on fel­low Chris­tians and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

This week, his par­ents and sib­lings re­ceived news that he had been killed dur­ing clashes near the war-rav­aged Syr­ian city of Kobani.

Broom­field was be­lieved to be the first Amer­i­can killed fight­ing for eth­nic Kur­dish mili­tias against Is­lamic State, also known by the acro­nym ISIS. Although thou­sands of for­eign re­cruits have joined the ranks of the ex­trem­ists, Broom­field was one of a rel­a­tively small but ap­par­ently grow­ing num­ber of Western­ers vol­un­teer­ing to help de­feat them.

About 400 fighters from North Amer­ica, Europe and Australia are be­lieved to have joined the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units, a Kur­dish fac­tion com­monly known as the YPG, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, an op­po­si­tion group.

Pho­to­graphs of some of the re­cruits are posted on the “Li­ons of Ro­java” Face­book page, which calls for vol­un­teers to help “send ISIS ter­ror­ists to hell and save hu­man­ity.” Ro­java refers to the north­east­ern cor­ner of Syria, where Kurds are in the ma­jor­ity.

Among those who have an­swered the call are U.S. mil­i­tary vet­er­ans driven by the frus­tra­tion of see­ing the mil­i­tants seize ter­ri­tory that Amer­i­can troops had fought and died for af­ter the U.S.led in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003. Some are also in­spired by a sense of loy­alty to the Kur­dish fighters who once bat­tled along­side them in Iraq.

Oth­ers, like Broom­field, are mo­ti­vated to fight by news cov­er­age of the bru­tal- ity of Is­lamic State against those who do not es­pouse the group’s ex­treme in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam.

“He be­lieved in op­pos­ing evil,” Broom­field’s older brother, Andy, said at a tear­ful news con­fer­ence Thurs­day out­side the fam­ily’s ma­chin­ery man­u­fac­tur­ing firm in Bolton, Mass., about 30 miles west of Bos­ton.

He said he had been shocked to learn of Broom­field’s de­ci­sion. But over the course of a few weeks, his brother con­vinced him “that it was what God had di­rected him to do.”

Broom­field got into some trou­ble while grow­ing up, ac­cord­ing to his fa­ther, Thomas. Court records show that he pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges while in his 20s, in­clud­ing pos­ses­sion with the in­tent to dis­trib­ute metham­phetamines, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported. He was sen­tenced to 18 months in jail and five years pro­ba­tion, which he com­pleted in 2011.

Broom­field’s fa­ther said his son’s life changed when he de­vel­oped a faith in God. He at­tended ser­vices at the Twin City Bap­tist Church in Lunen­burg three times a week, ac­cord­ing to Pas­tor Gary Moritz. And he over­saw pro­duc­tion at Broom­field Lab­o­ra­to­ries. But he was trou­bled by the re­ports he saw com­ing from Iraq and Syria.

“I can’t just stay and work,” Thomas Broom­field re­called his son say­ing. “I have to do some­thing about this.”

In Fe­bru­ary, Keith Broom­field bought a plane ticket to Turkey and en­listed with the YPG un­der the Kur­dish nom de guerre Gel­hat Rumet. The group re­leased a video Thurs­day in which he ex­plained the de­ci­sion.

“I’m here to do what I can to help Kur­dis­tan,” he said, sit­ting on a bench and smil­ing shyly for the cam­era. “With ev­ery­thing that’s been go­ing on, it seems like the right thing to do.”

A Kur­dish com­man­der, who said he was with Broom­field the day be­fore he was killed, de­scribed him as friendly and re­spect­ful per­son, brim­ming with ini­tia­tive and popular with his Kur­dish com­rades.

“He learned Kur­dish well and learned our habits and tra­di­tions in an ex­tra­or­di­nary fash­ion,” said Hava Haqi, reached by phone in Kobani. “He told us one time how he would hear the news of the YPG and YPJ [a women’s mili­tia], and how they sac­ri­ficed them­selves in de­fense of their land and peo­ple. All this pushed him to come here and fight against ter­ror­ism.”

He said Broom­field re­ceived ide­o­log­i­cal and mil­i­tary train­ing be­fore be­ing as­signed to a sniper unit.

“In the case of Keith and other for­eign fighters — and there are many of them among us — we make sure they don’t take part in fight­ing near the front lines, be­cause peo­ple like this sac­ri­ficed them­selves to de­fend us and stand against the ter­ror­ism that is Daesh,” he said, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State.

The pres­ence of for­eign vol­un­teers, the com­man­der said, was a ma­jor morale booster for out­gunned Kur­dish forces whose fierce re­sis­tance, backed by U.S. bomb­ing, this year helped thwart an at­tempt by Is­lamic State to seize Kobani. Fight­ing con­tin­ues in ham­lets near the bor­der city.

In a state­ment Thurs­day, the YPG said Broom­field was tak­ing part in an op­er­a­tion in the vil­lage of Qen­tere when he was killed June 3.

“He was mar­tyred when he was shot by a Daesh sniper,” Haqi said. “I won’t for­get him.”

The State Depart­ment on Wed­nes­day con­firmed Broom­field’s death but pro­vided no de­tails. The U.S. has not barred cit­i­zens from fight­ing with Kur­dish mili­tias against Is­lamic State, although it has long des­ig­nated one such fac­tion, the Turk­ish-based Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party, a ter­ror­ist group.

Hun­dreds of Kurds lined the streets of Kobani on Thurs­day when Broom­field’s body was driven through in a white van, en route to the Turk­ish bor­der to be sent back to the U.S. Pho­to­graphs shared on so­cial me­dia showed the crowd wav­ing Kur­dish flags and flash­ing victory signs in trib­ute to an Amer­i­can who gave his life for their cause.

Broom­field’s fam­ily said they hoped to re­ceive his re­mains Satur­day.

“Just know­ing that we will never all be to­gether again is dif­fi­cult,” said Broom­field’s sis­ter, Corinne Maleski.

His fa­ther said he took com­fort from the fact that his son had “found a faith in the Lord and it changed his life.”

“I have a real peace about what has hap­pened,” Thomas Broom­field said.

Bulent Kilic AFP/Getty Images

SYR­IAN KURDS gather along the route of the con­voy car­ry­ing the body of Keith Broom­field, killed near Kobani, to the bor­der with Turkey. The Amer­i­can had joined a Kur­dish mili­tia to fight Is­lamic State.

Christine Hochkeppel As­so­ci­ated Press

CORINNE Maleski com­forts her fa­ther, Thomas Broom­field, as he speaks about his son Keith.

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