Abu Omar al-Shishani

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Abu Omar al-Shishani
230px
Omar al-Shishani as seen during the Syrian Civil War.
Birth name Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili
Born (1986-02-11)February 11, 1986[1][2]
Birkiani, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union[3]
Died c. March 14, 2016(Supposedly)[4]
(age 30)
Allegiance Georgia (country) Georgian Armed Forces
(2006–2010)
25px Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
(2012–2013)
23x15px Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[5][6]
(May 2013 – March 2016)
Service/branch Military of ISIL
Rank Field Commander
Commands held Northern Syria
Battles/wars Russo-Georgian War[7]

Syrian Civil War[7][8]

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili (Georgian: თარხან ბათირაშვილი; February 11, 1986 – March 14, 2016), known by his nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Shishani (Arabic: أبو عمر الشيشاني‎‎, Abū ‘Umar ash-Shīshānī , "Abu Omar the Chechen")[9] or Omar al-Shishani, was a Georgian Kist jihadist who served as a commander for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, and a former sergeant in the Georgian Army.[9]

A veteran of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, Batirashvili became a jihadist after being discharged from the Georgian military and served in various command positions with Islamist militant groups fighting in the Syrian Civil War. Batirashvili was previously the leader of the rebel group Muhajireen Brigade (Emigrants Brigade), and its successor, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters).

In May 2013, Batirashvili was appointed northern commander for ISIL, with authority over ISIL’s military operations and forces in northern Syria, specifically Aleppo, Ar-Raqqah, Latakia, and northern Idlib Provinces. By late 2013, he was the ISIL emir (leader) for northern Syria and was operating in and around Aleppo Province. He was also in charge of fighters from Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus.[10] Units under his command participated in major assaults on Syrian military bases in and around Aleppo, including the capture of Menagh Airbase in August 2013.[3] By mid-2014, Batirashvili was a senior ISIL commander and shura council member based in Ar-Raqqah, Syria.[10]

The U.S. Treasury Department added Batirashvili to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists on 24 September 2014.[11] On 5 May 2015, The U.S. State Department Rewards for Justice Program announced a reward up to US$5 million for information leading to his capture.[12][13]

On March 25, 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter officially confirmed in a press conference that Batirashvili died from his injuries several days after being the target of a 4 March 2016 U.S. airstrike, near the Al-Shaddadah district in Northern Syria.[14][15]

Early life

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili was born in the Georgian SSR, Soviet Union (now Georgia) in 1986. His father, Teimuraz Batirashvili, is an ethnic Georgian and Orthodox Christian. His mother was a Muslim Kist—an ethnic Chechen subgroup from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge—of the Melkhi clan.[2][16][17]

Batirashvili grew up in the largely Kist-populated village of Birkiani, located in the Pankisi Gorge in northeast Georgia. In his youth, he worked as a shepherd in the hills above the gorge. Later in the 1990s, the Pankisi Gorge was a major transit point for rebels participating in the Second Chechen War, and it was there that Batirashvili reportedly came into contact with the Chechen rebels moving into Russia.[18] According to his father, a young Batirashvili secretly helped Chechen militants into Russia and sometimes joined them on missions against Russian troops.[3]

Service in the Georgian Armed Forces

After finishing high school, Batirashvili joined the Georgian Army and distinguished himself as master of various weaponry and maps, according to his former commander Malkhaz Topuria, who recruited him into a special reconnaissance group.[3] His unit was trained by U.S. special forces, and Batirashvili was reportedly a "star pupil".[19] He rose to the rank of sergeant in a newly formed intelligence unit, and during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War he served near the front line in the Battle of Tskhinvali, spying on Russian tank columns and relaying their coordinates to Georgian artillery units.[3] Batirashvili's unit inflicted serious damage on the Russians, and among the actions they participated in was an attack on a column of the Russian 58th Army during which the commander of the 58th Army, General Anatoly Khrulyov, was wounded.[19]

Batirashvili was never decorated for his military service.[2] He was due to be promoted to become an officer, but in 2010 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After spending several months in a military hospital, he was discharged on medical grounds. He tried and failed to re-enlist.[3][18] Upon returning home, he was unable to secure work in the local police force. Around this time, his mother also died of cancer. According to his father, he became "very disillusioned".[3]

Militant activity

According to the Georgian Defense Ministry, Batirashvili was arrested in September 2010 for illegally harboring weapons and sentenced to three years in prison.[3] He was allegedly released after serving about 16 months in early 2012 and immediately left the country. According to an interview on a jihadist website, Batirashvili said that prison transformed him; "I promised God that if I come out of prison alive, I'll go fight jihad for the sake of God", he said.[3]

Batirashvili reportedly told his father that he was leaving for Istanbul, where members of the Chechen diaspora were ready to recruit him to lead fighters inside war-ravaged Syria; an older brother had already gone to Syria some months before.[3] In an interview, Batirashvili said that he had considered going to Yemen and briefly lived in Egypt before ultimately arriving in Syria in March 2012.[20][21]

Muhajireen Brigade

His first command was the Muhajireen Brigade, an Islamist jihadist group made up of foreign fighters that was formed in the summer of 2012. His unit became involved in the Battle of Aleppo, and in October 2012, they assisted al-Nusra Front in a raid on an air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo.[8]

In December 2012, they fought alongside al-Nusra Front during the overrunning of the Sheikh Suleiman Army base in Western Aleppo. In February 2013, together with the Tawhid Brigades and al-Nusra Front, they stormed the base of the Syrian Army's 80th Regiment, near the main airport in Aleppo.[22]

In March 2013, Kavkaz Center reported that the Muhajireen Brigade had merged with two Syrian jihadist groups called Jaish Muhammad and Kataeb Khattab to form a new group called Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, or Army of Emigrants and Helpers.[23] The group played a key role in the August 2013 capture of Menagh Air Base, which culminated in a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) driven by two of their members killing and wounding many of the last remaining Syrian Armed Forces defenders.[24] A branch of the Muhajireen Brigade was involved in the 2013 Latakia offensive.[25]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

In mid-2013, Batirashvili made an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was appointed northern commander for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[26] In August 2013, Batirashvili released a statement announcing the expulsion of one of his commanders, Sayfullah al-Shishani, and 27 of his fighters. Batirashvili accused the men of embezzlement and stirring up the animosity of local Syrians against the foreign fighters by indulging in takfir—excommunication—against other Muslims.[27] However, Sayfullah denied these allegations and claimed that the dispute was due to his refusal to join ISIL with Batirashvili.[28] In late 2013, Batirashvili was replaced as leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar by another Chechen commander known as Salahuddin, as most of the Chechen members of the group did not support Batirashvili's support of ISIL, due to their preexisting oath to the Caucasus Emirate militant group and its leader Dokka Umarov.[2][6] By mid-2014, Batirashvili was a senior ISIL commander and Shura Council member operating in Ar-Raqqah, Syria.[26]

According to his father, Batirashvili called him once since he left for Syria to tell him that he was now married to a Chechen woman and had a daughter named Sophia.[16] For a time, Batirashvili lived with his family in a large villa owned by a businessman in the town of Huraytan just northwest of Aleppo.[29] He is said to have overseen the group’s prison facility near Ar-Raqqah, where foreign hostages may have been held.[30] By 2016, Batirashvili led special battalions of ISIL, in particular a unit named "the group of the central directorate", which appears to be the primary special forces strike force of the group.[31]

Reports of death or capture

Before his death, Batirashvili was reported as having being killed on numerous occasions. In 2014, there were reports that he had been killed in various parts of Syria and Iraq in May, June, August and October, all of which proved to be untrue.[32] On 13 November 2014, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov posted on his personal Instagram account that Batirashvili had been killed, and posted a photo of a dead ginger-bearded man. However, the man in the photograph was not Batirashvili, and Kadyrov later deleted the post. Before the post was deleted, the statement was picked up and reported on by many media outlets around the world.[32]

There were further reports of his death in 2015: in May,[33] June[34] and October.[35] On December 27, Russian News Agency TASS, quoting EIN News, claimed that American special forces had captured Batirashvili near Kirkuk in Iraq.[36] This report was denied by a Pentagon spokesman.[37]

In March 2016, several unnamed U.S. officials told CNN that Batirashvili may have been killed in a targeted airstrike on 4 March near the Syrian town of Al-Shaddadah; however, they were unable to confirm his death. Other officials said that he had been "critically injured" in the strike, and that U.S. military intelligence were assessing whether or not he had died.[38][39] On 12 March, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Batirashvili had become clinically dead following the U.S. airstrikes, with the ISIL commander in a critical condition and unable to breathe without the use of life-support machines.[40][41] On 14 March 2016, two U.S. officials told CNN that there was confirmation that Batirashvili had died after the airstrike.[15][42] It was confirmed by a U.S. military spokesman that Batirashvili had died outside ISIL's main stronghold of Ar-Raqqah in Syria.[43]

References

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