Alberta woman fighting ISIS now part of offensive near Raqqa, video suggests

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Alberta woman fighting ISIS now part of offensive near Raqqa, video suggests

A video released by Kurdish forces and featuring a young woman from Alberta, suggests she's part of an offensive near the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa.

In the 1 minute and 18 second video, Shaelynn Jabs, 20, aims her rifle, then takes cover behind a brick wall as gunfire explodes in the distance.

"Last night we [fought] with ISIS," says Jabs, dressed in camouflage and crouching beside a machine gun. "There is an improvement."

Speaking in the local language, Kurmanji, as a rough translation flashes on the screen below, she explains it was the fight for women's rights that drew her to the battlefield. 

"I came to (Tabqa) for independence and (the struggle) of women," says Jabs, who left Drayton Valley, 130 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, last September for her second tour with the YPJ — an all-female faction of the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG).

She refers to herself as "Dilon" which means "dance" — the Kurdish name Jabs picked up during her first six-month tour that began in October 2015, not long after graduating high school.

The YPJ Media Centre released the video on their YouTube channel earlier this week. CBC cannot independently verify the information in the video.

Guillaume Corneau, a Quebec-based graduate student from Laval University and expert on western volunteers who join Kurdish groups, said the recording is likely recent.

He explained the Tabqa operation, involving U.S. special forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led coalition, began at the end of March.

Corneau said he was surprised to see Jabs resurface in Tabqa, about 55 kilometres west of Raqqa and nearly 500 kilometres away from her last known position in Sinjar, Iraq.

"They need to cross the border from Iraq and Syria and that's illegal so they need to do it clandestinely and then move her west," said Corneau, adding he was impressed by her command of the Kurmanji language.

Foreign fighters are only given two weeks of language classes when they first join, he said.

It's been a steep learning curve over the past year and a half since Jabs — then a 19 year old with no military training who had never traveled outside North America — set out for one of the most dangerous places in the world.

She traveled to Syria, joined the YPG/YPJ and soon found herself on the front line shooting at ISIS militants. In her breast pocket she carried a spare bullet — a gift from her language teacher — to be used only to end her own life if she was going to be taken prisoner, she previously told CBC.

Instead, a bomb blast ruptured her eardrum and fractured her skull, forcing Jabs to return to Alberta. But five months later she returned to Syria to fight alongside dearly missed friends and comrades.

Feminist fighters

The group's feminist ideals arose for practical reasons, according to Corneau.

He said the fighters' need for more military personnel drew girls and women into the battle "and that changed the mentality" as the new group established itself. Six years on, women are often found in leadership roles such as commander, he said.

Corneau suggested videos featuring foreign fighters help the YPJ publicize their struggle as they strive to establish a province north of Syria based on their principles of confederalism, ecology and feminism.

"Right now we're talking about it, only because we've seen a Canadian on a video," he pointed out.

Corneau said the video is also a way for the group to show they hold the same values as western countries, for instance around women's rights and democracy, while highlighting their military and leadership skills. 

"I think they are trying to sell themselves as an effective political partner for the western countries," said Corneau.


andrea.huncar@cbc.ca             @andreahuncar