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Reports: Michigan woman killed in Syria fighting after joining rebels

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LONDON -- A 33-year-old Michigan woman who converted to Islam was among Westerners killed in Syria while fighting alongside rebels, according to reports on Friday.

The family of Nicole Mansfield of Flint were informed of her death by the FBI on Thursday afternoon, her aunt told Reuters.

She was killed alongside a British man, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Times newspaper.

Syrian state television showed what appeared to be Mansfield's passport and driving license. It also showed the British man and said he was born in London in 1990, ITV News said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the State Department did not yet have "precise information," adding: "I know there were reports of an American woman killed there. ... We have to follow up."

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was checking the reports. "We are aware of the claims," it said in a statement. "We have no verification, but are seeking information. The UK has warned for some time against all travel to Syria."

The victims were taking photographs of military positions near the Turkish border when they were ambushed by government troops, Rahman said.

If the Russians have in fact provided anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, they could be used to shoot down Western planes, or fend off Israeli airstrikes. Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon where troops have been deployed. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Mansfield’s aunt, Monica Mansfield Speelman, told Reuters: "I'm just devastated. Evidently, she was fighting with opposition forces."

Speelman said Mansfield, a single mother of an 18-year-old daughter, had converted to Islam about five years ago but she did not know when her niece had traveled to Syria.

"I didn't think she would stoop that low to go over there and try to harm anybody," Speelman said of her niece, who she said had worked at a group home.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, had earlier told Reuters that Washington was working via the Czech Republic mission in Syria to get more information.

"As we do in all such cases, we are working through our Czech protecting power in Syria to obtain more information, and we appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens," the official said. He added that U.S. authorities could not comment further "because of privacy considerations." 

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