Pittsburgh man reported killed in Syria
CAIRO — An American-Egyptian man born in Pittsburgh is missing in Syria and reported dead in fighting between Islamic militants and Kurdish militia.
If true, Amiir Farouk Ibrahim, 32, would be the second American known to have been killed in Syria's civil war.
Family members said he traveled to Turkey in February or March and later crossed into Syria, where Syrian rebels and foreign Islamist fighters have battled government troops for more than two years.
Ibrahim told his parents that he was providing humanitarian assistance there, although his father said he did not believe that.
His Facebook page contains numerous references in support of radical Islamists.
Ibrahim's U.S. and Egyptian passports — and passports of 14 other men from several Middle Eastern countries — were recovered in northeast Syria after a battle between Syrian Kurdish militiamen and militants from al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based Syrian opposition group, posted photographs of Ibrahim's passports on its Facebook page on Monday. The group said it did not know whether anyone survived an “intense” battle between opposing Syrian forces.
Contacted at their Cairo home by the Tribune-Review, Ibrahim's family said they were unaware of the Internet postings. They appeared shocked and devastated at the news.
One of his brothers later called a Trib reporter to say that a friend told him that Ibrahim was killed in Syria.
State Department, Homeland Security and other federal officials in Washington declined to comment or said they were unaware of Ibrahim's status or whereabouts.
‘He wanted to spread the Dawa'
Ibrahim was born Oct. 30, 1980, in Pittsburgh, according to his U.S. passport and his family.
His father, Farouk, worked for Pullman Swindell, a Pittsburgh-based steel-industry engineering firm now known as Swindell-Dressler. The elder Ibrahim attended the University of Pittsburgh, and the family had lived in Western Pennsylvania for 14 years, he said.
They moved to Saudi Arabia two years after Ibrahim was born, as the steel industry began to falter, and returned to Egypt eight years later.
Ibrahim lived with his parents and other family members in Heliopolis, a middle-class to upscale section of Cairo.
In 2003, he returned to the United States to attend Columbus State Community College in Ohio. He enrolled at Tallahassee Community College before transferring to Florida International University in Miami. In 2008, he received a bachelor's degree in business administration, according to school officials.
His father described him as intelligent — graduating from FIU with a 3.4 grade-point average — and as very involved in Islamic activities.
“He wanted to stay in Florida; he wanted to spread the Dawa,” or the call to Islam, the elder Ibrahim said. “We played a trick on him and brought him back here.”
In Cairo, he worked at an Islamic university, according to his mother, Fatimah.
‘He couldn't hurt anybody'
Both parents described their son as kind, gentle, loving and respectful.
After he “met a couple of Turkish guys who wanted him to go into the software business,” his father said, Ibrahim moved to Turkey about five months ago. He later told his family that he was in Syria, helping people to escape the fighting.
Angry and worried, Ibrahim's father said he refused to speak to his son whenever he called home, although other family members talked with him.
“He was calling me and saying, ‘Things are fine, and we are far away from the fighting,' ” his mother recalled.
“He said he was doing a humanitarian job, that the people were very nice. If you see him, he couldn't hurt anybody — such a type of man couldn't hurt a fly,” she said, crying.
Ibrahim's brother Rami said he never heard gunfire or explosions in the background during those phone calls.
“I don't believe it! I don't believe it!” his mother sobbed. “The last time I talked to him was the beginning of Ramadan,” the Muslim holy month, on July 7.
She said his cellphones worked for about a week after that date, then switched off.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the identity documents were found at a base of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) and al-Sham in the city of Ras al-Ein, in Syria's Hasakah province.
The two Islamist groups are loosely allied with other al-Qaida terror groups in the region.
“The documents were found after the ISIS retreated from the town after intense clashes last week with the YPG,” the group stated. “We do not know the fate of the owners of these documents, whether they are dead or alive and still active in Syria.”
The YPG — Yekineyen Parastina Gel, or People's Protection Units — is an armed wing of Syria's leading Kurdish party. A youth militia, it fights any outside groups, government or rebel forces trying to enter Kurdish territory.
‘Al-Qaida — oh, God!'
“I was expecting this,” Ibrahim's father said of news that his son's passports were found. “Al-Qaida — oh, God!”
“He came to me and asked me if he can go to Syria. I told him, ‘Over my dead body,' ” he said. He recalled telling his son, “If you go, I don't want to hear about you at all.”
In May, Syrian government forces killed Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, a Muslim convert from Flint, Mich., who was fighting with rebel forces.
Other Americans have been reported to be fighting in Syria.
Eric Harroun, an Army veteran, was indicted in June, charged with fighting for Al Nasrah Front, an al-Qaida-affiliated group.
In April, FBI agents at O'Hare International Airport near Chicago arrested Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, as he allegedly tried to fly to Turkey to join Al Nasrah.
Citing federal privacy laws, officials at the State Department — which issued Ibrahim's passport on March 6, 2012 — and the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with blocking members of al-Qaida from American shores, declined to comment.
Officials at State did not return messages asking whether the U.S. government is treating Ibrahim as a missing person or is seeking Turkish, Syrian or Iraqi help to locate him.