Monday, September 21, 2015

SYRIA - The ISIS Chechen Commander

"In Syria, Russia may fight an Islamic State commander it’s battled before" PBS NewsHour 9/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Abu Omar al-Shishani, an Islamic State military commander in Syria, is an ethnic Chechen who fought against Russia as part of the Georgian army in 2008.  How did he become one of the top figures in IS?  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner speaks with Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy Newspapers, who has just written an exhaustive profile of Shishani.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  New reports surfaced today that the U.S. and Russia will begin military-to-military talks about Syria, even as Vladimir Putin moves to bolster his old ally Bashar al-Assad.  But will Russia also be fighting a man they have battled before?

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  The man is Abu Omar al Shishani, the Islamic State military commander for the Northern District of Syria, seen here last August as the group pursued its lightning march across Northern and Central Iraq.

ABU OMAR AL SHISHANI, Islamic State (through interpreter):  It is time for the sons of the Islamic State to defend the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and defend our imam, who the world gathered against with all its strength.

MARGARET WARNER:  Unlike most I.S. fighters, he was speaking Russian.  His real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili.  He’s an ethnic Chechen reportedly born 30 years ago in Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union, to a Christian father and Muslim mother.  Tapped as a special forces soldier in the Georgian army, he fought fiercely against the Russian army when the two countries went to war over the province of South Ossetia in 2008.

Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy Newspapers has just written an exhaustive profile of al Shishani, with startling new information.  I spoke with him via Skype from his bureau in Northern Iraq.

How significant a military figure is al Shishani in ISIS?

MITCHELL PROTHERO, McClatchy Newspapers:  If he’s not the overall military commander for the Islamic State, he’s definitely in charge of the Northern Syrian Front, which is one of the most active and serious.

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