Friday 20 April 2018

Isil 'defence minister' is killed in coup for US allies

Omar al Shishani, with his distinctive red beard, was Isil’s second in command. Photo: Reuters TV
Omar al Shishani, with his distinctive red beard, was Isil’s second in command. Photo: Reuters TV

Roland Oliphant

A key Isil military commander - who was described as the terror group's 'minister of defence' - has been killed in Iraq in what would be a major symbolic victory for the US-led coalition.

Omar al-Shishani, a red-bearded ethnic Chechen from Georgia, who was considered to be Isil's second-in-command, died fighting in the town of Shirqat, south of Mosul, according to a statement by the Isil-affiliated Amaq news agency.

Shishai has been reported dead several times, including by the US in an air strike in March, but this is the first such claim from Isil itself.

Isil supporters exchanged notes of praise and condolence on social media, including pictures of the ginger-bearded fighter and pledged to launch a fresh offensive in his honour.

The announcement comes as a US-backed Iraqi and Kurdish offensive closes in on Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and a stronghold of the terror group since 2014.

The death in Shirqat of Shishani, a field commander who led several hundred troops, would show how important the battle for Mosul is to Isil.

Shishani, whose real name was Tarkhan Batirashvili, was born in 1986 in the Pankisi gorge region of Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union, to a Christian Georgian father and Muslim Chechen mother.

In the early 2000s, he fought briefly alongside Chechen rebels in Russia, before joining the Georgian army in 2006.

He received training from US special forces instructors and fought in Georgia's five-day war with Russia in August 2008, but was subsequently discharged after being diagnosed with TB.

He was arrested in 2010 for weapons possession and spent more than a year in jail, before leaving Georgia in 2012 for Istanbul and later Syria.

Shishani swore allegiance to Isil in 2013 and soon rose through the ranks to become a close military adviser to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph who heads Isil.

As Isil's 'minister of defence', he was considered by some to be second only in the group's hierarchy to Baghdadi himself.

He was one of the Isil leaders most wanted by Washington, which had put a multi-million-dollar bounty on his head.

Shishani, who was often heard speaking Russian in propaganda videos, was the most prominent of several thousand fighters from the former Soviet Union believed to have made their way to Syria to fight with Isil.

The 'Russian' contingent in Isil was brought to international attention last month, when 45 people were killed by three suicide bombers at Istanbul airport.

Two of the attackers were identified as Vadim Osmanov and Rakim Bulgarov, both Russian citizens. The third attacker is believed to have been from the former Soviet Central Asia.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News