May 31 (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed a 33-year-old Michigan woman who was a convert to Islam and a British man during an ambush on an opposition scouting mission north of the city of Idlib, Syrian state media said on Friday.
Nicole Mansfield’s aunt, Monica Mansfield Speelman, told Reuters on Thursday the FBI had informed her that afternoon of the death of her niece, who was from Flint.
Syrian state television aired footage showing the body of the woman, who was dressed in a full black hijab. The footage also showed her American ID.
Syrian state media also reported that a British subject, named as Ali Manasifi, born in 1990, had been killed in the same ambush. A European security source confirmed that report to Reuters.
European security officials have said recently that between 70 and 100 British subjects are believed to be in Syria, with most believed to be fighting with Islamic extremist rebel factions.
The state media said an initial investigation showed that Mansfield and Manasifi were part of a group on a mission to explore a nearby checkpoint. A third opposition militant was reported killed, but the identity was unknown.
Government forces found weapons with the group and several documents, including a sketch of a security building, state media reported. Weapons were also found with them.
Speelman said on Thursday she did not have the details of how her niece had died.
“I’m just devastated,” said the aunt. “Evidently, she was fighting with opposition forces.”
Speelman said Mansfield, a single mother of an 18-year-old daughter, had converted to Islam about five years ago but that she did not know when her niece had traveled to Syria.
“I didn’t think she would stoop that low to go over there and try to harm anybody,” Speelman said of her niece, who she said had worked at a group home.
A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had earlier told Reuters that Washington was working through the Czech Republic mission in Syria to get more information.
“As we do in all such cases, we are working through our Czech protecting power in Syria to obtain more information, and we appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens,” the official said. He added that U.S. authorities could not comment further “because of privacy considerations.”
The conflict in Syria has killed more than 80,000 people since March, 2011. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Carey; Editing by Vicki Allen)