A British man who went to Syria to fight Islamic State has been killed in Raqqa, a month after Kurdish commanders declared the “total liberation” of the group’s de facto capital, Kurdish sources have confirmed.
Oliver Hall, 24, from Portsmouth, is believed to have been clearing mines in the city with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) when one exploded near him on Saturday.
Multiple sources with close links to the YPG confirmed his death to the Guardian.
Mark Campbell, co-chair of the Kurdish Solidarity Campaign, said: “It is with deep regret and sorrow that I can confirm via Kurdish sources in Syria that Ollie Hall, a UK national who travelled to Syria in August to help in the liberation of the Isis city of Raqqa with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), fell on 25 November from an explosion of ordinance left by Daesh after the liberation of the city. Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Ollie at this time.”
Hall’s family were informed of his death on Tuesday. Campbell added: “They have requested that they are left alone by the media to be able to process this shocking and tragic news.”
It is understood that Hall travelled to Syria from his home on the outskirts of Portsmouth last August where he underwent the YPG’s mandatory month-long training programme, in which new recruits learn basic Kurdish, weaponry and battlefield tactics on top of a crash course in the socialist and feminist ideology of the YPG. He was then assigned to an infantry division, which comprised a mixture of Kurdish and international fighters. There, he was given the nom-de-guerre Canser Zagros.
Hall’s death comes as the ground war with Isis appears all but at an end.
On 20 October, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – of which the YPG is the majority component – declared the “total liberation” of Raqqa, which for more than three years was the de facto capital of Isis.
Then, two weeks later on 9 November, the Syrian Army drove Isis militants from their last stronghold, Abu Kamal – a strategic town in eastern Deir ez-Zor province near the border with Iraq – following a government offensive that effectively marked the collapse of the group’s self-styled Islamic caliphate in Syria. It mirrors similar gains made against extremists across the border in Iraq.
However, despite its fall, the group’s media apparatus has remained active and its fighters are likely to keep up their insurgency from desert areas, where the SDF and Syrian army continue to hunt them down.
Hall is believed to be the seventh British citizen killed with the YPG in Syria since the first foreign volunteers joined the fight against Isis in the autumn of 2014, and the second since the liberation of Raqqa.
On 23 October, former IT worker Jac Holmes – one of the longest-serving volunteers with the YPG – died in a similar IED explosion as the sniper unit he commanded cleared mines to make way for freed civilians to leave the war-ravaged city.
Other Britons to be killed fighting Isis in the past year include press officer Mehmet Aksoy, 32, from London, and Luke Rutter, 22, from Birkenhead.
On 21 December 2016, former chef Ryan Lock, 20, shot himself to avoid capture, five months after Dean Evans, 22, a dairy farmer from Reading, Berkshire, died in the city of Manbij. In March 2015, former Royal Marine Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, died in the northern village of Tel Khuzela.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to comment specifically on Hall, but said: “The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria. As all UK consular services are suspended in Syria, it is extremely difficult to confirm the whereabouts and status of British nationals in the country.”