Pentagon Confirms Georgian-born Shishani’s Death

WASHINGTON D.C. – US Defense Department officials on Tuesday confirmed reports that ISIS’ Georgian-born field commander, Abu Omar al-Shishani, has died from wounds suffered in a massive 4 March drone strike carried out in north eastern Syria.

Western intelligence services initially thought Shishani had been killed in the attack a week ago. Early reports on the ground indicated that he and at least 12 of his close lieutenants and bodyguards died as a result of the strike.

The claim later proved to be false after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group revealed that Shishani had been critically wounded as a result of the airstrike and taken to ISIS’ unofficial capital Raqqa for treatment.

He was later treated by Western-trained ISIS doctors, but succumbed to his wounds shortly thereafter.

“He has been clinically dead for several days,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman said Tuesday morning, adding that Shishani had been on life support since being transferred to Raqqa.

The Pentagon said that prior to receiving a confirmation, intelligence officials operating in Syria had already presumed Shishani was either dead or seriously incapacitated after traffic on his tapped mobile phone stopped on 4 March.

US officials said at the time of the attack that they had intentionally targeted Shishani and his associates Shishani after the group traveled to the al-Shaddadi area from Raqqa to meet with frontline troops who had been in combat and suffered heavy losses.
Shishani was regarded as one of ISIS’ top military commanders and a close confidant of the terrorist group’s supreme leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, having served as the Islamic State’s war minister.

The US previously offered a USD 5 million reward for his capture after he was declared a specially designated global terrorist in September 2014.

War ravaged al-Shadadi has served as Shishani’s base of operations since he took command of ISIS’ elite special operations battalions in late 2015.

The ginger-bearded Shishani has held several high ranking military positions within ISIS, including as overall field commander in several of the terrorist group’s most successful campaigns in 2013-2015.

An ethnic Chechen, Shishani was born Tarkhan Batirishvili in January 1986 and raised in the impoverished village of Birkiani in Georgia’s isolated Pankisi Gorge, home to a 20,000-strong Chechen community.

As a teenager, Shishani – whose nom de guerre translates as Omar the Chechen – joined anti-Russian rebel groups fighting for the fledgling Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The groups used Pankisi as a training and supply center during the brutal 1999-2001 Second Chechen War.

He later served in the US-trained Georgian armed forces and rose to the rank of sergeant. During the 2008 Russian-Georgian War, Shishani was part of a special reconnaissance unit during the Battle of Tskhinvali, charged with relaying the positions of Russian tanks while behind enemy lines.

Shishani was honorably discharged in 2010 after contracting tuberculosis, but later fell afoul of local law enforcement officials when he was arrested and served 16 months in prison for illegal arms possession.

Unable to find employment following his arrest, Shishani’s neighbors have said in interviews that he quickly turned away from the community after embracing a radical form of Islam known as Takfirism – a fringe form of Sunnism that labels other Muslims and non-Muslims as apostates.

After arriving in Syria in 2012, Shishani took command of the al-Qaeda-linked Mujahireen Brigade and its successor Jaish al-Mujahireen wal-Ansar – units comprised mainly of Russian-speaking militants from the North and South Caucasus, including many who had combat experience in the bloody post-Soviet wars of the 1990s.

Shishani’s death is a major blow to ISIS. His battlefield expertise and Russian language skills made him a formidable military and recruitment tool for the terrorist group.

Pankisi’s Chechens, who traditionally practice a moderate form of Sufi Islam, have experienced a major spike in the number of residents who have been radicalized and hope to follow in Shishani’s footsteps.

The beleaguered community has seen dozens of its youth leave for Syria in an attempt to join ISIS.

British and American intelligence services estimate that up to 3,000 Russian-speaking recruits currently serve the Islamic State, the overwhelming number of whom originate from the Caucasus.

By Nicholas Waller

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