What Was Flint Michigan Mom Doing In Syria?

Posted at 5:27 PM, May 31, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-31 17:27:53-04

flint mom copyFlint, Mich. — (CNN) — A few weeks ago, Nicole Mansfield called her daughter in Flint, Michigan. She tried to calm Triana Jones down, but she had bad news.

“I might not be home in weeks,” the mother said. “Someone stole my ID.”

This wasn’t a minor headache, part of the travail of international travel. Jones knew her mother could be in Syria, fighting alongside rebels in the country’s bloody civil war.

Nicole Mansfield had converted to Islam several years ago, her daughter told CNN Friday.

Jones wept as she and her grandfather Gregory — her mother’s father — talked to CNN about the horror they felt seeing images on the Internet this week of a dead woman they are convinced is Nicole Mansfield.

A grandmother said Nicole Mansfield was raised Christian but converted to Islam three to five years ago.

Syrian state run television aired a story saying that government forces had killed three Westerners. The video package shows a bullet-riddled car, weapons placed on the car hood, a computer, a hand-drawn map of a government military facility and a flag belonging to the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

The camera pans close to bodies arranged in a row, lying on the ground.

Mansfield’s relatives told CNN they have no doubt she’s one of them.

Though it’s unclear how the family knew to look on the Web to see the images, they say the FBI paid the Mansfield family a visit Thursday to ask them about reports that Mansfield was killed in Syria.

“The first time I saw those pictures I had to look again because I didn’t even recognize her. I hate to look again,” Jones told CNN. “I looked at her body and her feet and her hands and her nose and her mouth and I knew it was her.

“It makes me mad that they are over the Internet. … I shouldn’t have to see my mother’s body like that,” she continued, weeping. “There are people calling her a CIA agent and a terrorist. She was an American woman misguided by people who had good intentions but were extreme about it and didn’t need to be. It really makes me sick to my stomach that people post such horrible things.”

After showing the bodies, the Syrian television story shows shots of IDs; one of them appears to be Mansfield’s.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed three Westerners, an announcer says. The story also shows a picture of a British man. The U.K. Foreign Office confirmed Friday that a British national was killed in Syria and officials are trying to reach relatives.

The United States is aware of the claim that an American woman was killed and is working through the Czech Republic mission in Syria to obtain more information, according to a State Department official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.

Citing concerns that the privacy of a family could be jeopardized, the official declined further comment.

CNN asked Jones why her mother might have wanted to go to Syria.

“I know that she was talking to people online and that they told her about the project in Syria,” she answered. “And that she was interested in going over there to help. And she didn’t think it would be fighting, she told me there wouldn’t be no guns or anything. She would never be involved in that.”

“And they lied to her. They misled her and took her over there and probably paid for her ticket and everything and they kept her there.

CNN asked Jones if she could be more specific about what she meant by “project.”

“That it was to help free the Syrians from the Syrian government and all the problems that they’re having over there,” she answered.

CNN spoke with Mansfield’s aunt and grandmother. Both said she was outgoing and caring, and that she had worked for a time as a home care worker. She was also the type of person to take off and travel internationally without anyone in the family knowing exactly where she was heading.

Carole Mansfield said her granddaughter had traveled to the Middle East before, and might have gone to Dubai. But both the aunt and the grandmother said they really didn’t know specifically what Nicole Mansfield had been doing for several years.

Both Carole and Gregory Mansfield said Gregory contacted the FBI when his daughter left the United States three years ago, but he was not clear on where she went.

CNN asked Manfield why he thought his daughter going abroad was disturbing enough to warrant notifying the FBI. He refused to explain. He said his worries concerned “Israel” and repeatedly insisted to CNN that the FBI should have revoked his daughter’s passport.

The grandmother said she last saw her granddaughter in Michigan in January. Another relative recently got a call from Nicole Mansfield in which she said she was gone but she’d be back to the States for a visit soon.

Carole Mansfield said her granddaughter was raised Christian but converted to Islam three to five years ago and used to worship at a mosque in Flint.

She has been married twice, including to a man who practiced Islam, the grandmother said.

“And at that time I told her I thought she was looking a rattlesnake in the eyes,” Carole Mansfield said. “But that’s my belief. Not that I felt it made her a bad person.”

“Nicole was a type of person if she thought that something was wrong somewhere, she could help repair it,” said her aunt, Monica Steelman.

Her niece was a “problem solver,” she said.

“Trouble spots,” Carole Mansfield said, “fascinated her.”