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How does a 22-year-old Gold Coast woman end up dead in Syria?

Amira Ali, 22.

There are reports she flew to Syria to join rebels fighting in the civil war. She’s been called a jihadist, an extremist, and a martyr. But before all of that, Amira Ali, nee Karroum, was an Australian daughter, a sister, and a wife.

And that’s what makes Amira’s death as fascinating as it is tragic.

Amira was an ordinary woman from the western suburbs of Sydney who has now become the first female Australian casualty of civil war in Syria.

She was gunned down by the Free Syria Army (FSA) alongside her husband Yusuf Ali near the town of Allepo on Saturday. She was 22.

In the wake of the murders, we’re piecing together every detail we can to try and understand who this woman was, and how she met that fate. Here’s what we know so far: She was born and raised near Broadbeach on the Gold Coast by an Anglican mother and Muslim father.

She attended one of the country’s most prestigious private Anglican all-girl schools, St Hilda’s, and graduated in 2008. She enrolled in a graphic design course at UTS, and moved to Sydney’s inner west last year – the same year she married Yusuf Ali. Despite her Anglican education, she was a practising Muslim who started wearing a hijab around the same time she met her husband at a mosque in Granville, NSW.

Tragedies like these unfold in a series of raw, heartbreaking moments as news hits each family member and friend:

The moment Amira’s father collapsed on the street outside his Gold Coast kebab store when he heard the news of his daughter’s death. He’s still in hospital, recovering from a heart attack.

The moment Amira’s mother, Honor Deane, got the phone call from Department of Foreign Affairs to say her daughter had been killed in Syria – when she thought Amira was with her husband in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ms Deane has been spotted since, fragile and devastated, outside her home in Southport, QLD.

The moment Amir’s sister decided to frame Amira and Yusuf’s death as acts of heroism.

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And that brings us to how this tragedy played out on social media.

Amira’s sister Rose, known on Facebook as “Mujahidah Lioness”, has posted a series of requests: ”Please everyone make dua for my sister Amira Ali and brother Inlaw Yusuf. They hav been martyred and insha’allah they r shaheeds. May Allah grant them both janah Ameen,” she wrote. ”May Allah make the mujahideen victorious against FSA and Assad’s regime.”

Their mother, Honor, has expressed her grief online: “My heart will never heal, I am distraught with grief but I am thankful for having her for 22 years.” And Amira’s cousin Rhonda Sayadi wrote: ”I am honoured greatly that your life was taken while trying to save the lives of others… my beautiful cousin Amira”.

Amira Ali and her husband

Amira’s husband’s Facebook page is haunting to read. Shortly before the couple died, this is what Yusuf Ali posted: ”Death is a reality none of us can out run. What have you done to prepare for ‘destroyer of pleasures’? Believe in one God (without partners) enjoin in what is good and forbid what is evil and you will have success in this life and the next!”.

His page carried a photo of him with the caption ”The World is My Prison” and pictures of hooded men in army camouflage carrying guns.

Other Facebook friends contributed to Amira’s digital legacy with posts like this: ‘Their dreams came true”, ”she got what she wanted!”, and they died ”while trying to help”. Mejida David Mheich wrote: ”She was a beautiful person inside and out mashalla! She’s an inspiration, and a strong-hearted girl! I still remember that last time I saw her! She sounded so happy, it was a month ago like today!”

Most days, the conflict in Syria seems so, so far away. It’s beyond anything we can imagine, back in Australia. The deaths there seems almost other-worldly. But then something like this happens – an Aussie girl so normal-sounding she could have been a friend or acquaintance is killed – and the realities of that war come crashing into our own lives. It’s horrific, but riveting. We’ll be watching how it continues to unfold.

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