Her death caused an outcry within Kurdish communities and leadership, which deemed it a war crime committed in the midst of a Turkish incursion into Syria’s Kurdish-controlled northeast.
About a week ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government launched a military operation that it said is aimed at clearing the Turkey-Syria border of Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom it accuses of links to Kurdish militants inside Turkey, and repatriating Syrian refugees.
The United States, which had partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, condemned the Turkish operation, as did other Western allies of Turkey, warning that it could lead to a resurgence of the Islamic State.
Kurdish leaders have accused an Islamist fighter of Khalaf’s killing, identifying him as a member of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sharqiya. The group falls under the Syrian National Army, an umbrella group fighting alongside Turkish armed forces in northeastern Syria.
A State Department spokesman, speaking on background, said Tuesday that reports of the killing of Khalaf and several captured SDF fighters were “extremely troubling, reflecting the overall destabilization of northeast Syria since the commencement of hostilities.”
“We condemn in the strongest of terms any mistreatment and extrajudicial execution of civilians or prisoners, and are looking further into these circumstances,” the spokesman added.
In Khalaf’s memorial service Sunday in Malikiyah, also known as Derik, her mother noted that her daughter had three degrees: civil engineering, English and Kurdish. “But my daughter was not satisfied with these diplomas and decided to participate in building Syria,” she said, according to an official statement issued by the party.
“My daughter Hevrin today got the highest of degrees: She was martyred for the sake of the people and the homeland and the cause,” she said.
Noubhar Mustafa, a roommate and colleague of Khalaf, remembered her as “beautiful, quiet, kind, compassionate.”
Mustafa said: “She got emotional about mothers’ suffering. She got emotional about women’s suffering. They would come to our center in Raqqa; she would listen to their stories and despite the fact that she’s a political figure, her human and compassionate side took over.”
The Center for Studies and Protection of Women’s Rights in Syria also paid tribute, saying: “Hevrin Khalaf was not a fighter fighting in the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces or others. She was a Syrian citizen and a civil engineer who worked to serve her homeland, Syria.”
“What she was exposed to, a barbaric murder at the hands of Erdogan’s lackeys, only reveals the malice of these groups and their lack of humanity,” it said.
The killing is under investigation by Ahrar al-Sharqiya, said Ziad al-Khalaf, a member of the group.
But Khalaf told The Washington Post that “until now, there has been no proof” that a member of the group was responsible for the killing.
Hassan al-Shami, a spokesman for the group, said Hevrin Khalaf was not a politician but an agent of U.S. intelligence, noting that her party was established on Washington’s orders.
“We in Ahrar al-Sharqiya and other Syrian National Army factions are partaking in the Peace Spring Operation with the Turkish brothers. The aim of this operation is combating terrorism. . . . If we find a terrorist or a spy, what do you expect us to do?” the spokesman told The Post.
After an initial version of this article published, Ziad al-Khalaf, the head of the political office of the group and the official spokesman, said that Shami did not speak for Ahrar al-Sharqiya, that he had misrepresented himself as a member of the group and that his view did not reflect that of the group. Ziad-al-Khalaf said the group had turned the perpetrator in to the proper authorities.
Asser Khattab in Beirut contributed to this report.