Two FBI agents interviewed family members of Nicole Lynn Mansfield on Thursday. Reports say Mansfield, an American, was killed in fighting in Syria. (Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT — A 33-year-old Flint, Mich., woman who converted to Islam after meeting an Arab immigrant was killed in Syria while fighting for opposition forces, family members told the Detroit Free Press on Thursday night.
Two FBI agents interviewed family members of Nicole Lynn Mansfield on Thursday, according to the family members. The FBI confirmed to them news reports from Syrian television that Mansfield was killed while fighting in Syria, said Monica Mansfield Speelman, 53, of Flint, an aunt of Nicole.
A Syrian media outlet linked to the government reported that Mansfield was killed earlier this week while fighting in Idlib, Syria, with opposition forces, showing a photograph of what it said was her driver’s license. It showed Mansfield wearing an Islamic headscarf and listed her address in Flint.
The report — from a Syrian media outlet called Breaking News on its website — sought to portray Mansfield as an extremist who was fighting with two other people from England; it said that government forces shot her dead along with her British companions. They reportedly had rifles, clips of ammunition, grenades and the flag of al-Nusra, a group related to al-Qaida.
Family members confirmed that the photo and address are of Mansfield.
“I’m sick over it,” Speelman said of her niece’s death. “I didn’t think she was (a terrorist), but God only knows.”
Speelman and other family members said Mansfield met an immigrant from the Arab world several years ago and married him. She then converted to Islam and started wearing the hijab.
They divorced about three years ago after he was able to get a green card that allowed him to stay long-term in the U.S.
About two to three years ago, Mansfield went to Dubai, upsetting her family, Speelman said. They urged her to come back, which she did.
Family members said they don’t know the name of the Arab man she married. They also said they don’t know when or why she went to Syria.
“It bothered me” that she converted and started wearing a headscarf, Speelman said.
But Nicole Mansfield, who has an 18-year-old daughter, was adamant that Islam was a good path to take.
She told people “that the best way of life was to be a Muslim. And that women should wear scarves ... women should always cover their head,” Nicole’s grandmother, Carole Mansfield, 72, told the Free Press.
Nicole Mansfield grew up Baptist in Flint. Her dad was a production worker at General Motors. Her parents divorced and Mansfield dropped out of high school after she got pregnant.
She later got a GED and attended Mott Community College, Carole Mansfield said. She worked as a home health care worker for about 10 years, helping elderly people.
She was smart in school, the grandmother said, but at the same time, was too trusting.
“She had a heart of gold, but she was weak-minded,” Mansfield said. “I think she could have been brainwashed.”
Muna Jondy, a Syrian-American activist who is president of the Flint-based United for a Free Syria and opposes the Syrian government, said she hadn’t heard of Mansfield. She also cautioned about accepting the Syrian television report since the station is linked to the Bashar Assad government, which is battling opposition forces and may be reporting propaganda.
The FBI visited the family of Mansfield at about 4 p.m. The agents asked them “questions about her: when was the last time we saw her? How close was the family?” Speelman said.
Simon Shaykhet, a spokesman for the Detroit FBI office, declined comment Thursday night.