A British actor who has appeared in minor roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Tom Cruise actioner Knight and Day has reportedly travelled to Syria to fight against the so called Islamic State.
Michael Enright, who until recently lived in the US, headed to the region and volunteered with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The actor, who has also appeared in television shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., CSI and Law & Order: LA, claims he was moved to volunteer for the Kurdish forces after become aware of a string of IS atrocities.
In an interview with Dubai-based news organization, Al-Aan TV, Enright, who has no military experience, claimed he became increasingly sympathetic towards anti-IS forces after the extremist group "cut off an American journalist's head". However, the final "straw which broke the camels back" occurred in February when a video showing a Jordanian captive pilot being burned alive was released online. You can watch the interview with Enright below:
No one is entirely sure how many Western volunteers have volunteered to fight beside anti-IS forces. The Guardian reports that "dozens" of Westerners have joined the YPG, making it to likely to be the most popular militia for potential volunteers. The YPG is currently one of the many militia groups who, along with the Iraqi Army, is officially cooperating with the US, UK and other anti-IS coalition countries.
The YPG, along with other Kurdish Peshmerga militias, were largely responsible for slowing the IS advance in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi and Syrian security forces in 2014, while they were also instrumental in defending the Syrian city of Kobane earlier this year. As well as providing additional manpower, the Western volunteers perhaps most significantly provide a large strategic public affairs advantage to a group which frequently appeals to the international community for aid and assistance.
There have been claims that many of these volunteers are kept away from actual fighting, however it does seem at least some Westerners have been on the frontline. In March this year, the first Westerner, Australian Ashley Johnston, was killed in battle with IS.
Volunteering for the anti-IS coalition also currently occupies a legal grey area. Officials from the US, UK and other EU countries have suggested that those who travel to Syria and Iraq to fight could face terrorism and criminal charges on returning to their home countries - although it is unclear if this would actually be enforced. Helen Fenwick, a Durham University law professor who specialises in counter-terrorism legislation, has stated:
They are fighting in a particular, local conflict, and there’s no reason to think they will mount bomb attacks in the UK, therefore I don’t think there would be any public interest in prosecuting them.
For his part, Enright seems aware of the danger he has put himself in, although he claims he is willing to die for the cause, adding:
I didn’t come here to play games – I wrote to all my friends and family because I might not see them again.