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Tuesday 6 December 2016

IS commander Omar Shishani dead after US air strike in Syria

Published 15/03/2016 | 12:06

Omar Shishani standing among a group of fighters (AP/militant social media account)
Omar Shishani standing among a group of fighters (AP/militant social media account)

A top Islamic State commander and feared ethnic Chechen jihadi fighter has died of wounds suffered in a US air strike in Syria, a senior Iraqi intelligence official and the head of a Syrian activist group said.

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Omar Shishani, who was wounded earlier this month, died on Monday outside IS's main stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, the two sources said.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from IS or IS-linked media postings but a spokesman for the US-led coalition battling against IS in Iraq said the alliance was also confirming that the militant commander had died.

The red-bearded ethnic Chechen was one of the most prominent IS commanders, who earlier served as the group's military commander for the territory it controls in Syria. He later became the commander of the group's ground forces, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and author who closely follows the group.

After Shishani was wounded, IS "brought a number of doctors to treat him but they were not able to", said Rami Abdurrahman, of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian conflict through a network of activists on the ground.

Shishani died in a hospital in the eastern suburbs of Raqqa, Mr Abdurrahman said.

The Iraqi intelligence official said the IS commander was buried in Deir el-Zour on Tuesday.

Shishani, whose real name was Tarkhan Batirashvili, was an ethnic Chechen from Georgia, specifically from the Pankisi Valley, a centre of Georgia's Chechen community and once a stronghold for militants.

A US air strike targeted Shishani on March 4 near the town of Shaddadeh in Syria, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters in a statement last week.

Shishani "had been sent to Shaddadeh to bolster ISIL fighters following a series of strategic defeats", Cook said in the statement, using an alternative acronym for IS.

The spokesman for the US-led coalition, US army Colonel Steve Warren said on Tuesday that the coalition was able to "assess that he is dead" and that it "got the word Monday morning".

Col Warren described Shishani as a "very important figure" in IS who was hit as part of a stepped-up campaign of US-led air strikes targeting IS leadership.

Shishani was in the area of Shaddadeh "along with about a dozen other fighters who were in one spot ... and we struck it", Col Warren said.

The extremist IS group, which emerged from al Qaida's branch in Iraq, has many Iraqis among its top leaders. It blitzed across much of Iraq in the summer of 2014, capturing vast swathes of the country's north and west. It also exploited the chaos of Syria's civil war to seize large chunks of territory there as well and declared an Islamic self-styled "caliphate" on the territory it controls in both countries.

It subsequently drew hundreds of foreign fighters into its operations in Syria. The United Nations estimated that around 30,000 so-called foreign fighters from 100 countries are actively working with IS, al Qaida or other extremist groups. An earlier estimate by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, a think tank at King's College London, said IS fighters include 3,300 Western Europeans and 100 or so Americans.

Yet despite the US-led campaign of coalition air strikes in both Iraq and Syria, IS still controls large areas, including Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and also Raqqa, the group's main stronghold in Syria.

Press Association

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