A British former IT worker who went to Syria to fight Islamic State has been killed in Raqqa a week after the militants’ de facto capital was liberated, his mother has said.
Jac Holmes, 24, from Bournemouth, was one of the longest-serving volunteers with Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), having travelled to northern Syria three times since 2015, and he featured regularly in the international media.
It is understood he died on Monday morning in an explosion as the sniper unit he commanded cleared mines to make way for freed civilians to leave the war-ravaged city.
His mother, Angie Blannin, told the Guardian: “I’m completely heartbroken. I can’t believe he’s gone. I was on the phone to Jac only on Sunday and we talked about how he planned to come home for Christmas now Raqqa is liberated.
“Jac was the longest-standing foreign volunteer in the YPG as far as I know and, as a mother, you get used to pushing your fears to the back of your mind. But the longer he was out there the less I worried. Everyone who knew him said he was good at what he did. His Kurdish is fluent. I think he had a lot of guys had a lot of respect for him – the Kurds, the westerners, everyone.”
Holmes, who had no previous military experience, left his IT job in Bournemouth to join the YPG in Syria in January 2015. In May that year he said that he had been shot in the arm as his unit attempted to take control of a village from IS.
After six months of fighting, he returned home for six weeks before heading back to Syria in August 2015. He was later imprisoned in Irbil, northern Iraq, on his way home from the front line. He then returned a final time in August last year where he experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the war with Isis, regularly posting about his experiences on Facebook.
Blannin said he had left a will in which he stated that he wished to be buried in Syria.
“Fighting Isis in Syria was his calling,” she said. “He was lost for a while before he went to Syria and didn’t know what he wanted to do. He didn’t feel like he had any purpose. This gave him a purpose. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I always respected that and supported him.”
She went on: “Now I wish he hadn’t been quite so committed to something because I’d rather have him here. But it wasn’t my place to stop him. He had to find his own path in life. And death. My job as a mother wasn’t to keep him here, but to support him and help him in whatever he chose to do.
“Even though I didn’t want him to go, and we talked about it a lot, you have to let your children grow and be their own person. He was very like me: headstrong. He didn’t like being told what to do.”