The Army Wouldn’t Take Him… So He Made His Own Way to Syria

Published in The Guardian Weekend on 29 Oct 2016

This summer Dean Evans became the second British citizen to be killed fighting Isis in Syria. What drove a dairy farmer from Warminster to the frontline? Matt Blake reports…

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© The Guardian, Steve and Tracey Howell and Uygar Önder Şimşek/Moku

At 9.48am on Thursday 21 July this year, Dean Evans sent his stepfather, Steve Howell, a text message. “Alright?” it read. “Just letting you know I’m OK.” It was the first time Howell had heard from the 22-year-old in nearly a month. But then, he was in Syria, on the frontline in the war against Isis, and his mobile signal was patchy at best. “I was just relieved to hear he was well,” Howell says. But that night, Evans became the second British citizen killed in Syria while fighting Isis.

Evans’s final hours weren’t spent in a military-grade tank with RAF air cover or advanced medical support; he was fighting with a multinational group of ill-equipped militiamen loyal to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of Syrian Kurdistan, a guerrilla group in which officers are elected by troops, and men and women fight side by side. A dairy farmer from Warminster, Wiltshire, Evans had smuggled himself into Syria on his own, having been recruited by Kurdish activists on Facebook. He had no proper body armour, and fought with a black-market rocket launcher that could jam at any moment.

Evans was one of an estimated 40 Britons who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight Isis since August 2014. To date, none has been prosecuted for doing so, although the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 makes it illegal for any Briton to join a foreign army at war with a state at peace with the UK. More young British men continue to travel there, offering their lives to what might be considered someone else’s war.

This story was originally published in The Guardian Weekend magazine. To Continue reading, click here.