BURTON, Mich. (AP) — The FBI questioned relatives of a 33-year-old Michigan mother killed during fighting in Syria after she took a previous trip to the Middle East a couple of years ago, family members said Friday.
Agents had asked why Nicole Lynn Mansfield traveled to Dubai for a few weeks, but family members said they did not know much about her trip, said Mansfield's aunt, Monica Mansfield-Speelman.
Mansfield first became interested in the Middle East after converting to Islam and marrying an Arab immigrant several years ago, her aunt said, but her family had lost touch with her in recent years and had no idea she had gone to Syria.
"We didn't know she was over there. We didn't know she was gone, but Nicole, she was known to take off like that," Mansfield-Speelman said. "She was a traveler, I guess you could say. She didn't stay in one place."
Family members said FBI agents visited them Thursday and informed them of Mansfield's death. Simon Shaykhet, an FBI spokesman in Detroit, said he could confirm agents spoke to Mansfield's family, but he declined further comment.
Mansfield is the only American known to have been killed fighting in Syria, where 70,000 people have died in a two-year civil war. A pro-Syrian government news agency said Mansfield and two others were fighters for a group opposed to Syria's government and were killed in a confrontation in the northwestern city of Idlib. The report on the circumstances of the deaths could not immediately be confirmed.
She had been on the FBI's radar before she left for Syria, according to a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't permitted to speak publicly about the investigation. The official did not elaborate and no further details were immediately available.
Mansfield-Speelman, who lives with Mansfield's grandmother, said she doesn't know the whereabouts of Mansfield's ex-husband, but her niece has an 18-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. Mansfield-Speelman and other family members had concerns about her niece's conversion and marriage, but the aunt said she tries to keep an open mind.
"That was her belief — I respect that, but I don't agree with that," she said of her niece, who had worked for various group homes and hospice facilities.
Associated Press reporter Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report