Georgian family of top IS group commander Shishani mourns his death

AFP , Friday 15 Jul 2016

Abu Omar al-Shishani
File Photo: Abu Omar al-Shishani speaking at an unknown location between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah (Photo: AFP)

The family of one of the most notorious Islamic State jihadist group commanders, Omar al-Shishani, on Friday received condolences from locals in his home village in ex-Soviet Georgia, apparently confirming reports of his death.

Dozens of mourners flocked to the house of Shishani's brother Tengiz Batirashvili in the village of Birkiani, telling AFP there was no doubt of the death of the warlord nicknamed "Omar the Chechen."

Amaq, a news service linked to the Islamic State group, announced this week that Shishani died while defending Mosul, the principal city held by IS in Iraq.

The Pentagon on Thursday acknowledged targeting Shishani in an airstrike near Mosul on Sunday, but stopped short of confirming his death.

"Tarkhan made a mistake and took a wrong path but his death is a tragedy nevertheless," Natia Tsatiashvili, a Birkiani resident, told AFP, using Shishani's real name.

"I watched him growing up and will always remember him as a quiet and kind young man," she said.

Shishani was born Tarkhan Batirashvili in the village in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge which is inhabited by Muslim Kists, descendants of Chechens who migrated to Georgia in the 19th century.

His nom-de-guerre means "the Chechen" in Arabic and he was among dozens of Kists reportedly fighting in Syria and Iraq for the IS group.

"Tarkhan was my sworn brother, I am sure that he couldn't have committed an atrocity," said another villager, Beslan Margoshvili. "His death brings grief to the whole of Pankisi."

A hardened fighter with a distinctive bushy red beard, Shishani had been in the crosshairs of US officials who portrayed him as an experienced warlord and a kind of "minister of war" within the Islamic State group.

The United States put a $5 million bounty on his head.

Shishani has been wrongly reported dead numerous times before, most recently in March when the Pentagon said he had been killed in Syria.

The coalition against the Islamic State has mounted a campaign to eliminate the top commanders of the jihadist group.

President Barack Obama's anti-Islamic State envoy Brett McGurk recently said that the coalition was killing them at a rate of one every three days.

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