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Exclusive: Watch a Canadian Teen Reunite With Family After Fighting the Islamic State

A truck bomb left 19-year-old Shaelynn Jabs deaf in one ear a month after her German mentor was killed in action.
Shaelynn Jabs, a sinistra, con sua madre all'aeroporto di Dallas. (Foto di Daily VICE)

It was an emotional reunion at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport this week, when a Canadian teenager seriously injured in Syria while fighting the Islamic State returned to her family.

Nineteen-year-old Shaelynn Jabs was fighting alongside Kurdish forces in a village in northern Syria when she says a suicide truck came towards her unit, crashing into the wall of a building before exploding and bringing the building down. The blast ruptured her eardrum and caused a small skull fracture, leaving her deaf in her right ear.


Jabs was a member of the Kurdish YPJ, the women's contingent of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which is the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Jabs arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Sunday night where her mother, Brenda Jabs, was visiting family. The pair had not seen each other since Shaelynn left their home in Drayton Valley, Alberta last October.

"Oh my God I actually made it. Oh man," Jabs said as she and her mother embraced. Daily VICE has been following Jabs' story and was at the airport. "I'm really happy. I'm trying not to cry."

"For the last four months I kept dreaming of what it would be like to see my mom, what it would be like to see my family," said Jabs. "It's not a dream anymore."

Photo via Facebook

Brenda Jabs had only been able to get sporadic updates from her daughter while in Syria and often feared for her life. "It's hard. I do a lot of praying and I try to stay busy so that it's not in my head all the time because it is," she told Daily VICE in January.

Shaelynn was injured twice before the truck bomb took her out of action. She had shrapnel removed from her back and shoulder and was hit by a ricochet bullet.

"It's like a sharp pain in the back of my head. It's a constant throb, it won't stop hurting," said Jabs of ear injury that the YPG deemed serious enough that she should return to North America to seek medical treatment.

A doctor has told her there will be permanent damage, but that in time, she could recover two-thirds of her hearing in the affected ear.


Photo of Rustem Cûdi, via Facebook

Her mentor in Syria, a German volunteer and former soldier who went by the Kurdish name Rustem Cûdi, was killed in fighting a month ago, shot by an Islamic State sniper.

Jabs is one of several Canadians that have put themselves in the line of fire to help the Kurds take on the Islamic State, including former Canadian Forces soldier Robert Somerville, who was barred from entering Australia and deported to Vancouver last month. But at 19 years old, Jabs is one of the youngest Westerners to join the battle.

"We have to because they're people and they're in trouble and they're losing children," she told VICE News in an interview. "We're here (in the West) turning a blind eye and we should pay attention."

Joanna Mozolewska-Filipczuk, a Polish member of the YPJ and mother of four, fought alongside Jabs and left Syria on the same day as the Canadian. She told VICE Germany that she was prepared to die in Syria.

Photo via Facebook

The truck bomb that collapsed a building around Jabs and her fellow fighters also killed three children. "We saved two mothers and a young boy."

Jabs arrived in Syria with no military experience and relied on the YPG's basic training and her fellow fighters. In the field, Cûdi was her mentor, a 55-year-old former German soldier who was a father figure to many in Jabs' unit. "He always looked after us. He showed me everything I knew about survival," said Jabs. "He showed me things in our off time, like how to get into locked buildings."


Her Kurdish comrades gave Jabs the name Dilan, which means "dance" in Kurdish, because of the animated way she used her hands when she spoke. Jabs said it was difficult to leave Syria.

"It's like I left them behind. I would run back right now if I could help them," she said.

And she plans to go back. "I mentioned it [to my mom] before but I think they don't believe me because of my ear."

"I had a few Kurdish women come up to me crying and saying thank you. Some people think it's not our war, but it is."

Photo via Facebook

Asked if she'd ever had to kill anyone in Syria, Jabs said it was a personal matter and that it went against her nature, but that she had killed an Islamic State fighter in the truck bomb battle. She and two others had come under attack. "He wanted to hurt my comrades and I wouldn't let that happen," Jabs said.

Upon entering the United States, Jabs was questioned by border officials in Chicago. They searched her belongings to verify what she had told them about her time in Syria. But after a two-hour delay she was allowed to catch her connecting flight to Dallas.

She may face further questioning when she returns to Canada. "I don't know what to expect. I hope I don't get in trouble."

Photo via Facebook

Follow Tomas Urbina on Twitter: @Tomas_Urbina